Skiers' Best Friends: Avalanche Rescue Dogs Trained to Save Lives

We've probably all tried our hand at the basic dog "tricks" at some point: sit, shake, roll over, and, if we're feeling ambitious, the 360 show stopper. And if you spend much time on Grand County trails, you've likely noticed that dogs and outdoor recreation go hand in hand. Avalanche rescue dogs and their handlers couple dogs' love of play in nature and their inherent trainability to turn man's best friend into "skier's best friend." And getting your dog to roll over pales in comparison to what they can do!

There's no question that backcountry riding poses risks--avalanches are a known danger in ski country. When a skier or rider has been buried in an avalanche, dog response time and success is significantly higher than that of humans. Able to search two-and-a-half acres in 30 min (20 humans would need four hours), it's no wonder that ski patrols (including our very own Winter Park Ski Patrol) and search and rescue teams all over the world have invested in training and developing avalanche rescue dog teams. 


Winter Park Resort is committed to and seasoned in the avalanche dog training game. They've been training dogs to assist in avalanche rescue for years. Unlike other resorts in Utah and Europe, Winter Park's avalanche rescue program relies on a unique dog-handler bond. Avalanche rescue dogs here are owned by their ski patrol handlers rather than the resort itself, deepening the natural connection in the work they do. Handlers and their dogs are partners in all aspects of life and enjoy each other on and off the job. The Winter Park Ski Patrol Avalanche Dog Team prides itself on its highly-trained, certified dogs: Emma, Charlotte, Biskit, and Gravy comprise the current canine members of WP's dog patrol. But they don't just service Winter Park Resort. They assist Grand County Search and Rescue and avalanche rescue missions all over Colorado. The whole community is appreciative of their work and support in making the backcountry and extreme terrain accessible. If you want to support the cause, swing by WP Resort base patrol headquarters and purchase your 2023 avy dog calendar! 


The dog team at Winter Park Resort wouldn't exist without the support of Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment, a non-profit dedicated to cultivating, inspiring, and producing dog teams for successful avalanche search and rescue throughout the mountains of Colorado. Dubbed C-RAD, the organization supports handlers from the beginning of the process throughout the career of each dog. C-RAD works with handlers and breeders to select dogs that are ideal for working avalanche dogs. While avy dogs come in all breeds and sizes, agile dogs with strong hunting drives typically thrive on rescue teams. Labs, German shepherds, golden retrievers, and herding breeds like Australian shepherds and border collies are some of the most common avy dogs. Once a trainer has found their partner, C-RAD supports them with frequent training events throughout the Rockies. Their philosophy relies on the importance of play for the dogs, utilizing games for training and motivation. The work C-RAD does in partnership with ski patrols and handlers to maximize successful avalanche rescues in Colorado is invaluable. 

Posted by Leah Bishop on


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