Ski dogs provide safety on slopes Dog supervisor Craig Noble puts his border collie Wylee through some paces on the mountain in Olympic Valley, Calif. (Matt Palmer/Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows via AP/Chris Segal/Crested Butte Mountain Resort via AP)
Ski dogs provide safety on slopes
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Wylee the border collie can search an avalanche the size of a football field in five or 10 minutes. It would take a probe line of 50 people using poles a couple hours to cover the same ground.
 
When 30 minutes can mean the difference between life and death for a skier lost on a snowy mountain, most people would bank on the dog.
 
"The fastest thing is a dog - faster than a beacon or echo," said Craig Noble.  He is ski patrol and dog supervisor at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows resort.  It is in Olympic Valley, California. "We respond to a lot of avalanches that don't involve any people. But we don't know that before we leave. We just get there and get the dogs working."
 
Speed is crucial in avalanche rescues.  Chances of survival are minimal if victims are buried for 30 minutes or more.
 
Noble skis 220 days a year. He follows the snow from California to Chile and Australia. He also takes yearly classes from the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association.  Those trainings are at Whistler Mountain in British Columbia, among other locations. Noble relays what he learns to the ski patrollers at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows (the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics) and Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado. He's brought all of their dog programs up to the same CARDA standard.
 
He also teaches classes for students in the mountain communities. "The kids love the dogs," he said.
 
Every dog and handler must recertify as a team every year, he said.  Before handlers get a dog to work with, they train for a year without one.
 
"It's easier to teach animals than people," Noble explained.
 
Wylee is 8. But he's fit and a lean 42 pounds. The pooch has plenty of time left in his career, Noble says. Most patrollers use Labradors or golden retrievers, but Noble opted for Wylee partly because he weighs about half what the other breeds weigh. Patrollers have to carry their dogs to search sites in addition to hauling 60-pound backpacks with shovels, probes, headlamps, water and other equipment. The dogs need the lift so they don't get tired before they start working.
 
Dustin Brown, a ski patroller at Crested Butte, is going on his second year handling Moose.  He is a Labrador retriever. Moose "comes to life in the snow. He feels free. It's playtime. There's a new adventure around every corner," said Brown.
 
Other employees on the mountain help with training. Some buy clothes at thrift stores and wear them repeatedly so the fabric absorbs a human scent.  The scent is used to train the dogs. In the event of a search, there won't be time to get a lost skier's scent, so the dogs are trained generically.
 
Dogs are not a requirement for ski patrollers, though. In fact, for every dog team, there are six patrollers who go it alone at Squaw Alpine. And one critical part of keeping slopes safe is something dogs don't participate in.  Those are early morning rounds to identify where snow needs to be blasted off the mountain so it doesn't fall.
 
Data was not available on how often dogs take part in avalanche searches or how often they are able to help locate victims. But the dogs don't save that many people.  That's because there aren't that many to save. A quarter of avalanche victims die from trauma before the snow stops moving and of those buried who weren't killed by trauma, half die within 20 minutes, he said.
 
If there is a chance of rescue, though, the dogs can help, Noble said. The dogs also cut search time for remains, Logan said.
 
Erica Mueller got to see how the Crested Butte dogs work when she volunteered to spend part of an hour in a roomy snow cave waiting to be found.  She was armed with a radio and was wearing several layers to stay warm.
 
"I can't talk like a survivor," said Mueller, who now works as Crested Butte's director of innovations and relations. "But it was definitely a cool way to see how well trained those dogs are."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why are ski dogs so effective?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (83)
  • daud-eva
    1/12/2016 - 08:53 a.m.

    I think ski dogs are effective because they are helpful in many different ways . They can search more ground in a shorter period of time then it would take 50 people . They are also so helpful when there's a avalanche .So I think that's why ski dogs are so effective.

  • bimalk-eva
    1/12/2016 - 08:58 a.m.

    Becuse they are very strong and very fast and carry you in a sled.

  • syrahiab-eva
    1/12/2016 - 08:59 a.m.

    Wylee the border collie can search an avalanche the size of a football field in five or 10 minutes that is very cool I winder if I can do the same thing. Wylee is 8. But he's fit and a lean 42 pounds my dog is only 7 and doesn't weigh 42 pounds.I wonder if your dog is a sled dog well it would be insain if a boy or girl came in side the school and said there dog was a sled dog crazy I know.


  • duyenn-eva
    1/12/2016 - 09:05 a.m.

    The main reason is that the dog is very fast !!

  • ayannap-eva
    1/12/2016 - 09:06 a.m.

    Ski dogs are so good because they are very fast compared to any other dog.

  • mauricioa-hol
    1/12/2016 - 11:12 a.m.

    Interesting

  • allyt-612-
    1/12/2016 - 11:28 a.m.

    The reason the ski dogs are so effective is because the dogs are like transportation for the community because if they drive cars there will be to many wrecks.

  • kylerw-hol
    1/12/2016 - 12:55 p.m.

    i think sky dogs should be at every resort.it is a good way to protect people.i like this idea.

  • alecs-con
    1/12/2016 - 01:40 p.m.

    Ski dogs are effective because if the person who is climbing the mountain gets caught in an avalanche the ski dogs could help them. Dogs can find the human in 5 minutes. The humans can find them in 30 minutes. The dogs are a lot more easier to teach than people.

  • ashv-con
    1/12/2016 - 01:43 p.m.

    Ski dogs are so effective because they save lives in under 10 minutes. The chances of someone surviving over 30 minutes is a very low chance. It would take about 50 people to do what this one dog can do.

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