The Importance of Ski Rescue Dogs
When people think of skiing and snowboarding, they picture white mountains, great trails and good hot chocolate. Usually the patrol staff and their dogs are overlooked.
Patrol staff and their ski dogs are a critical part of a good ski resort. These dogs help train for potential rescue missions. Most of the time, little rescuing needs to be done - avalanches and other serious accidents rarely happen at most resorts. However, the dogs standby, preparing for the worst. When they are not training, they are companions to their trainers, who also are part of the ski patrol rescue team. They also are basic resort celebrities. Children love to approach and pet the friendly dogs, and even take pictures with them.
The power of a dog
The dogs are a friendly way to spread the message of safety across the resort. Almost every resort on the West Coast, and even some in Europe, have ski rescue dogs as part of their team. Dogs are Dogs are a vital members to the resort patrol staff due to their keen sense of smell, swiftness and speed to help rescue skiers and snowboarders from danger. Dogs' abilities are so valuable that some people believe that one dog and his human companion can do the same job as 150 trained human searchers. While historically dogs have not been recognized for their bravery at these resorts, they are beginning to become a little more famous at their mountainous homes.
Take Henry, a well-known Golden Retriever who works as a rescue dog at Vail. The resort is so proud of his actions that they renamed a warming lodge after him. Other resorts take pride in their dogs by creating baseball cards after them. The ski patrollers will give these cards out to children at the resort, who are given the mission to try and collect them all. Sometimes children need to do certain tasks to earn a baseball card. Just take the Snowbasin Resort in Utah. Ski patrollers will make children recite the Skier Responsibility Code before they are given the card. Some dogs' roles extend beyond the resort. They will visit local schools to spread the message of safety in the winter. Others act as therapy dogs for injured skiers and snowboarders at resorts' medical offices. During the day, many resort guests take interest in watching the dogs train for avalanche rescues. Sometimes, local volunteers and resort guests can sign up to participate in the rescue missions.
A lifelong role
While these dogs may have a variety of roles, they usually stay with the same owner for life. Ski rescue trainers will adopt the dogs - who usually are rescues or from a shelter - as puppies. The patrollers will raise the dog and train him to be prepared for the missions ahead. All canine expenses, down to food and toys, are paid for by the resort. When the dog retires from his duty, the patroller will keep the dog as his lifelong friend.
Though it may seem like a sweet life for a dog, it is not all fun and games. These dogs are often recruited for backcountry emergencies. These emergencies are regional, which means their likelihood is pretty frequent. Backcountry emergencies mainly happen when a hiker, skier or snowmobiler gets injured or goes missing in the country. For many popular ski-resort destinations, such as Utah and Colorado, the team will be comprised of dogs and patrollers from several ski resorts in the area.
The most common reason people needed rescuing from a backcountry emergency were because they were injured by a fall, had an infected wound or became stranded without the proper resources. Thanks to the ski patrol teams and their dogs, the individuals they rescue are brought back down the mountain to get the medical treatment they need.