At Colorado ski resorts, a dog riding a chair lift is not a surprise. In fact, dogs throughout the western United States and world are becoming members of ski patrol and avalanche rescue teams at astounding rates. With an extraordinary sense of smell and high aptitude, these woofers are sometimes even the most valuable members of their teams.
Specifically chosen from a liter and trained from the time they are a puppy, avalanche rescue dogs are highly specialized. The search for the perfect fit begins by selecting a breed that best fits the characteristics needed for this line of work. Intelligence, a strong sense of smell, eagerness to work, and a calm demeanor are some of the top sought-out qualities. Hunting dogs and breeds such as goldens, labrador retrievers, and german shepherds are commonly chosen for this line of duty.
After the puppy is selected, training begins. The owners, normally members of ski patrol themselves, work with their pups on a daily basis. Practicing commands like "Search," "find it," and basic commands, this training continues until about 2 years old when they are ready for drills. Rescue drills are practiced on a weekly basis and include mock scenarios of ski patrol/volunteers buried in avalanche conditions. The dogs focus on their owner until they are given the command "find it," search the terrain for the mock victims and proceed to dig in an area until they reach the body. Avalanche dogs can even ride ski lifts, on the back of members of ski patrol, in helicopters, on snowmobiles, and be lowered from helicopters or ski lifts.
Avalanches are no joke in Colorado and surrounding areas. Each year, around 25 people die in avalanches in the United States. Time is a huge factor when it comes to whether people survive avalanches or not. The faster the person is found, the higher the likelihood that they will survive. Dogs, with a sense of smell 1,000- 10,000 better than humans, are a huge asset in regards to this matter. They are known to cover as much as 25 times more terrain than a human.
These good boys and girls are extremely brave, sometimes risking their own lives in dangerous terrain to help save the lives of others. We at CWRAG are very thankful for the work that they do!