Ski Patrol Dogs Report For Duty On Colorado Slopes

The dogs are trained to find people buried by an avalanche.

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Avi dog
Avalanche dogs share a close bond with ski patrollers. Via Vital Films/Vimeo
Stephanie Brown

The winter ski season is finally upon us. If you plan on hitting the slopes at Snowmass Mountain in Colorado, you might catch a glimpse of some very special members of the ski patrol team.

Two Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers and a Labrador Retriever work as avalanche dogs (or “avi” dogs for short) at the resort, owned by Aspen Skiing Company, CNN reports. Avi dogs search for people buried by avalanches. An Airedale Terrier, an Australian Cattle Dog mix and three other Labs work on other Aspen-area mountains owned by the company.

“The dog’s nose is tens of thousands of times better than our nose, so if people [who are lost] are not wearing an avalanche transceiver beacon, then our best bet to find them alive is to get the dogs out there first,” Lori Spence, who heads up Aspen Skiing Company’s avalanche dog team, told CNN. “They can search an area so much faster than we could. It could take us many hours — up to days — where the dogs can hopefully locate a person in minutes.”
 

Watch puppies become avalanche rescue dogs

At Snowmass, Colorado, teams of retrievers learn how to be avalanche rescue dogs. 😍🐶😍🐶😍🐶

Posted by CNN Travel on Wednesday, December 6, 2017

 
Training begins when they are puppies. They start off just getting accustomed to the sights and sounds of the slopes. They’ll also run search drills in which they have to find people safely buried in the snow. It’s like a game to them, according to Spence.

Avi dog drill

The search drills are like a game to the avi dogs. Via CNN

Once they’ve graduated to full-fledged avalanche dogs, they are tasked with the lifesaving mission of finding trapped skiers and snowboarders. When they’re not out on a search, they hang out in the patrol station or take to the slopes for some training — and a little fun. At night they go home with the patrollers.

“They do a lot of PR on the hill,” Spence told CNN. “People love seeing them and come to our top patrol just to meet them. We give out baseball cards with the dogs’ pictures and bios on them — so you have to go to each mountain here in Aspen so you can get the dogs from each hill.”

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