Avalanche rescue dogs are the silent heroes who keep mountain resorts safe.
If you’re planning a trip to the mountains soon, you’ll probably see dogs riding lifts, hitching rides on snowmobiles, running and chasing skiers, or just resting and looking cute.
Almost every ski resort has a dog on their staff. These dogs aren’t merely mascots. The canines are highly trained rescue dogs who use their speed, on snow agility and powerful sense of smell to search for buried avalanche victims faster than any known alternative. They say search dog and his handler can do the job of 150 trained human searchers in the same amount of time.
Avalanche rescue dogs have been around for years but have only gained exposure more recently.
In many cases, ski patrols let volunteers from the local community participate in training exercises.
Larry Olmsted got to participate in Colorado’s Beaver Creek’s training exercises several years ago.
“I was “buried” in a pit about six feet below the surface and later found and dug out by Blue, a Labrador Retriever,” he writes in Forbes.
The Labrador’s handler, Brent Redden, told him that young children love the Labrador.
“Kids pet them all day, and we take them into schools, about 20 times each year, to talk to the kids about ski safety,” Redden told Olmsted.
The patrollers often get a dog as a puppy but some dogs are rescues or shelter dogs.
A patroller forms a one-on-one relationship with a dog. He trains the dog, lives with the dog, and eventually keeps the dog as his pet when it’s time for retirement.
The resort where the dogs work for usually covers all the expenses for food, training, and medical expenses.
The dogs train hard in case am “in-bounds” avalanches happens within the boundaries of public ski resorts, but these incidents are extremely rare – meaning, the dogs don’t often have a job to do.
In the history of U.S. snowsports, only one skier who went missing without an avalanche transceiver has been rescued by an avalanche search dog within the ski resort boundaries in Jackson Hole in Wyoming.
Many mountain resorts have collectible cards for each canine rescue expert that ski patrollers give to young visitors. The kids are always more than happy to get one and often eager to collect them all.
The dogs pose for pictures and love receiving a good, old petting. Aside from the cuteness and joy they bring, the dogs serve a greater purpose – safety education. The search dogs go into communities with their patrollers to spread the winter safety message.
Each mountain resort also holds different programs to raise awareness about winter safety in the snowy mountains.
- At Deer Valley, classes of kids visit the dogs at patrol headquarters.
- The dogs at Colorado’s Loveland Mountainwork as therapists for injured skiers in the patrol’s medical room.
- Mountain resorts Arapahoe Basin and Monarch host interactive days on the slopes with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
- At Snowmass, the search dogs ride the chairs to the top of the mountain – greeting skiers getting off the lifts.
- Vail’s rescue icon, a Golden Retriever named Henry, has his own eponymous mountain top warming hut that skiers can visit for a break.
While the rescue dogs are rarely needed in-bounds, a lot of the dogs are also part of regional teams for backcountry emergencies, which are more common – like The Wasatch Backcountry Rescue in Utah.
The rescue group includes dogs and patrollers from the nine resorts located around Salt Lake City, Park City and Ogden. If any of the resort goers goes missing in the wild, helicopters are dispatched to resorts to pick up the rescue dogs and their partners. Colorado’s Rapid Avalanche Deployment Team (CRAD) functions in the sameway.
Many of the mountain resorts sell rescue dog t-shirts or posters as fundraisers for the ski patrol.
If you’re planning to visit any of these resorts, make sure to give these unsung heroes some love and petting!
Happy Tails, snow dogs!
Image and article source: Forbes