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 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 by following 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, 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 (18)
  • caitlynk-2-bar
    1/12/2016 - 12:17 a.m.

    Ski dogs are so effective because they cut looking for the trapped person mildly. Instead of people looking for a person and having to set up a bunch of equipment, ski dogs are trained to find the person by scent. Also, dogs can cover the length of a football field in five to ten minutes, yet people can do the same amount of land in a couple hours. This article was interesting because it told the reader how much faster someone could be found by a dog then a human. This article was surprising because it told me that a person that is stuck in an avalanche usually dies before the snow stops moving and usually only lasts twenty minutes after if the survive the trauma.

  • jeremym-
    1/12/2016 - 08:53 a.m.

    Ski dogs are so affective because they help the people search 50 yards or more even faster instead of 50 people taking hours to find a body that would already be dead because of how cold it is under the snow so thats why they bring the dogs to help because there trained to smell peoples scent already because people take clothes from the thrift shop and they wear them over and over again so the dogs can learn how to sniff the people out without having a piece of there clothing or other stuff they have on so they can just go out and sniff him out and try to help him but not all make it out of the snow.

  • ashleer-
    1/12/2016 - 09:31 a.m.

    they are effective because they a trained to find people and they are quicker than humans poking around with sticks.

  • kaitlync1-hor
    1/12/2016 - 11:50 a.m.

    I think the author's purpose in writing this article was to inform readers about the ski dogs that provide safety on slopes. I learned that people train dogs to try and rescue people from avalanches. I also learned that Wylee the border collie can search an avalanche the size of a football field in 10 minutes. I think that it is great that dogs can be trained to rescue people from avalanches, because people might not be able to search an avalanche in 10 minutes.

  • briannh-hor
    1/12/2016 - 02:48 p.m.

    I think the authors purpose of righting this article was to inform readers of ski dogs and there job about
    saving people from avalanches. Also from this article I learned that the minimal chances of survival for a survivor buried under the snow is for 30 minutes or more. I think its is a brilliant idea for ski dogs to help people find survivors trapped in a avalanche since they do have a good sense of smell and you can train them to do so and its better then humans just poking sticks into the ground searching for someone buried.

  • Steve0620-yyca
    1/13/2016 - 03:34 a.m.

    I think that it is very useful and effective for people to use a ski dog when they are trying to save someone or find something in the snow. Wylee the Border Collie can search an avalanche the size of a football field in five or 10 minutes but it takes a lot of people, a couple hours for the same area. Craig Noble, who worked with dogs teach people and train the dogs for the rescue missions. It is crucial for people to hurry up and save someone if they are caught in an avalanche. I think that the dogs are very beneficial. They are even faster than beacons and echoes.

  • lucasd-3-bar
    1/13/2016 - 05:52 p.m.

    Ski dogs are so effective because they can save and help people more effectively then humans. The first paragraph states "Wylie the border collie can search an avalanche the size of a foot ball field in 5 to 10 minutes." This is way more effective then humans and can help save lives.
    This was an interesting article, and i was surprised how effective dogs are.

  • angelinat-3-bar
    1/13/2016 - 08:38 p.m.

    Ski dogs are so effective because, they are incredibly fast and they cover the same amount of ground in a few minutes than 50 people would be able to do in a few hours. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, and this allows them to smell anyone or anything that may be trapped below the ice. The article says, "The dogs also cut search time for remains..." This shows that if someone was really in the need of help the dogs could do it much faster and much more effectively than humans can. I was interested in this article because I love dogs and love hearing about how they help people. I was not surprised by this article because I knew that dogs are being used all over the world to aid, and save people's lives.

  • theaw-4-bar
    1/14/2016 - 09:06 p.m.

    Ski dogs are effective because they are quick and easy to train. They identify people by the people's scents instead of with their eyes making them fast and effective. "(One) 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." I liked this article because I thought it was cool how people are thinking of new ways to save their fellow human beings lives in cases of emergency. I also found it sweet that dogs where the perfect fit because I am a dog lover.

  • Eugene0808-YYCA
    1/14/2016 - 09:19 p.m.

    I think this is cool because dogs are necessary for quickly rescuing people who were caught in an avalanche. I knew that people can die of suffocation inside the snow but I never knew that they only had 30 minutes. The rescuers must be very fast-paced.
    Why are ski dogs so effective?
    Answer: Ski dogs are so effective because they can sniff out survivors.

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