The Patrol Dogs of Winter

On any given day at Squaw Valley, you might see 5 or more trained avalanche dogs, riding the chairlift in uniform. These pups can cover 2.5 acres of terrain in about 30 minutes, while it would take 20 of their human counterparts working with probes to search the same area. While inbounds avalanches are uncommon, most Western and European resorts are staffed with at least one avalanche dog/handler team in case of emergency. 

The teams are trained using a standard developed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which can take over a year to complete. Once teams have been assessed, they can officially bear the prestigious Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association name. Many American resorts have adopted the CARDA standard of training for their dog/handler teams. 

Humans utilizing dogs for alpine search and rescue is nothing new. In the 17th century, Monks living in the St. Bernard Pass in the Western Alps kept canines as companions, guards, and to seek out lost travelers after heavy snowstorms. The monks acquired their first dogs between 1660 and 1670, and developed the breed into the St. Bernards we know today. Their broad chests helped to clear the snow in their path, and their superior sense of smell proved useful in locating lost travelers. When a dog located a stranded traveler, they were trained to lie on top of the rescuee to provide warmth. The dogs of the St. Bernard pass were credited with saving more than 2,000 lives. 

Fast forward a few hundred years, and it's common place to see an "avy dog" skiing between the legs of a snow-plowing ski patroller, or hitching a ride on their handler's shoulders. While we love these dogs for their ability to safely locate skiers trapped by avalanches, it's hard to deny the joy they bring to any mountain when their off duty. Here's a look at the Patrol Dogs of Snowmass.