We all know that dogs are a man’s best friend. Well now dog’s can be a skier’s best friend. And they might even save your life.
Many resorts in Northern California have a team of ski patrol dogs who are highly trained to find and rescue people in the rare case of an inbound avalanche. The dogs use their speed, agility and sense of smell to find and rescue people buried in snow faster than any team of humans. In fact, it is said that one dog and its handler can do the job of 150 trained human searchers in the same amount of time.
As part of their training, the ski patrol dogs are constantly practicing the art of using their noses to find humans buried in snow and digging them out. Just finding a person stuck in an avalanche can help ski patrol save lives, but digging to them can help the stuck skier/snowboarder get much needed air in the desperate situation.
The Alpine Avalanche Rescue Foundation shared video of some of their training at Squaw Meadows recently, showing what it looks like to be rescued by one of these ski patrol dogs:
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Heres a first person view of a rescue scenario with #alpinedogs Walter. We try to train a lot with patrollers as “victims”. It helps to energize the dog, even at 8 years old! An interactive and animated reward is way better than a stinky wool sweater! @squawalpine #mysquawalpine
In a life or death situation, that’s exactly the face I want to see while buried in the snow.
Squaw Valley probably boasts the largest team of ski patrol dogs in the area, and rightfully so. With the large, robust terrain of backcountry mountain at Squaw, it would be safe to assume that it would have a higher risk of inbound avalanches compared to other resorts.
These dogs are not only hand-picked by their trainers, they also must undergo rigorous training exercises to stay in tip-top in case of an emergency. Heavenly ski patroller Colton Terry identifies the top five characteristics of a good avalanche rescue dog:
- Good prey drive, which is their desire and drive to locate a victim.
- Good victim loyalty, which will help them to better identify a victims location. With good victim loyalty, they will not leave the area until the handler comes and investigates what they have found. It helps eliminate false indications.
- High energy is a plus. This gives them the ability to search for extended periods of time.
- Obedience. Professional rescues are very serious and involve a lot of distractions and people. The dog needs to stay focused on the task at hand.
- Good physical condition. Avalanche rescue can be very demanding on a dog and requires good physical fitness and agility.This would cover general health, which would include a good sense of smell.
Keep up the good work, good boys!
Northern California’s Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine