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Watch: Meet the Donner Summit Avalanche Dogs

While skiing, meet the Donner Summit Avalanche Dogs with The Sugar Bowl Ski Patrol, March 17, 2021

Jason Bean, Reno Gazette Journal

Buster’s workday at Sugar Bowl Resort starts with A solid game of tug-of war. Nova, his co-worker, starts her day. with A vigorous roll in the snow

Buster, Nova Graupel, Griffey, and Graupel are all golden retrievers and black Labradors who love each other. toThey love to play and frolic. They are also critical members of the resort’s ski patrol Team.

Avalanches can often be associated with with Backcountry skiing and riding are possible at resorts, as well. Prepare for the “what-if” Situation, many Tahoe-area ski Resorts have dogs That they serve on their ski patrol teams.

“There’s no technology in the world that can compete with a dog’s nose (if you get buried),”Sugar Bowl ski patroller Andrew Pinkham.

Dogs who need a job

The dogsThat serves on ski patrol aren’t your run-of-the-mill house dogs.

Patrol officers look out for dogs that have high drive – ones they say make “bad pets.”

“We want dogs that really need a job,” Pinkham stated.

The handlers are the ones who do the hard work with Breeders and agencies to Find out dogs suitable for the position – Graupel comes from a line of working dogs Include parents who serve at the Canadian border with their children. patrol You are looking for explosives.

“Many pet owners want their dog to hang out and cuddle on the couch. We look for dogs that are kind of fiery and have a lot of drive to search and hunt so we can ask them to perform these longer, harder tasks in mountain environments,” said Chase Allstadt, ski Alpine Meadows, dog team coordinator and patroller “That’s what I share with my handlers – you are getting a dog your spouse may not love.”

Each handler purchases and trains his or her dog, and it’s not cheap. Sugar Bowl’s handlers estimate they spend about $1,500 on each dog.

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“It’s part of the passion of what we love to do – being on the mountain and keeping people safe,” said Mike Trombetta, Graupel’s handler. “I am passionate about avalanche safety and awareness, and the dogs are another tool for the box.”

The dogs Are you properly trained? to Play the game “hide and seek,” This mimics the experience of finding people in an avalanche, Sugar Bowl Patrol Director Courtney Meyerholz said.

The end result will be the dogs Learn to Differentiate between the scents of skiers/riders who have fallen on the snow and people who are trapped beneath the snow.

“These dogs are trained to detect human scents under the snow,”Allstadt stated. “There may be human scents on the surface of the snow, and the dogs may acknowledge that, but that is not what the dog is trained to go out there to do. It is trained to pursue human scent to its source. Our dogs are trained to find any human scent under the snow, rather than a specific scent.”

Sugar Bowl currently has two dogs that are validated – meaning they are qualified to participate in search and rescue operations – and two that are working toward validation. Three Alpine Meadows-validated Search and Rescue Operations are available. dogs And three more in training.

It takes approximately two. to Three years to Train the dogs before they are validated by the Placer County Sheriff’s Office.

For a dog to Validation must be obtained. “victim” A 100×100 meter search field is completed in 10 minutes. Extra time is also given to the dog to find three buried items of clothing while its handler must find hidden beacons – transceivers that backcountry skiers and riders wear in case they are caught in an avalanche.

“The whole process of bringing these dogs through until they validate is a journey,” Chris Dunbar, who works for Sugar Bowl, said: with Nova, Nova’s dog. “But once you’re at the end, it’s really rewarding to see it pay off.”

Mobilizing their resources

Sugar Bowl and Alpine Meadow’s patrol Members estimate their dogsYou can find someone buried up to10 to 12 feet below the surface Studies show that 93 percent to 94 percent of avalanche victims are recovered alive if they are found within 15 minutes – after that, the odds of survival drop significantly.

Both Sugar Bowls and Alpine Meadows both declined to Release the number of avalanches at the resort in the past few years.

“It’s a very low occurrence,” Meyerholz stated.

“It is quite likely in a dog’s career, that they never respond,” Allstadt said. “Most of our ski Patrollers who volunteer to work outside resorts may experience slides. Call-outs are usually outside the resorts. ski Capacity for resort.”

In his 15 years on Alpine Meadows’ ski patrol, all the searches he’s responded to have been outside the resort, he said. During those situations, avalanche beacons failed to locate the victim, and “at that point in time, you’ve gotta rely on a dog. It’s the only tool that hasn’t been tried.”

Buster, who Meyerholz co-handles with Pinkham, has been mobilized for action three times but has never been deployed at the resort.

“You mobilize all your resources, but hopefully you don’t have to use them,” Meyerholz said.

While resort avalanches are rare, they are not unheard of.

In 2016, a Sugar Bowl rider who traveled out of bounds triggered an avalanche. A Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe skier who went out of bounds was also killed in a 2016 avalanche. In 2020, an Alpine Meadows avalanche killed one person.

“The ski resorts in the Tahoe area do a really good job mitigating the avalanche hazards,” Sierra Avalanche Center President JB Brown said. Brown is unaware of any avalanches at area resorts this year. There has been one fatal avalanche in the backcountry this year. A 43-year-old man died March 20 in an avalanche triggered by a collapsing cornice near Truckee, California.

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Simulating a rescue

During a training exercise for the RGJ toDunbar, observe, of the Sugar Bowl ski patrol Was? “rescued” Starting at avalanche Simulation at Sugar Bowl

He crawled in the ungroomed snow from the trees to the bottom of a snow cave. Dunbar was buried about 3 feet below ground by another patroller, who took his skis and poles off and placed blocks of snow on top of the opening.

A few rays of sunlight made their way through cracks in the snow as Dunbar sat mostly in the dark. He could hear people outside, but those inside the cave couldn’t hear him.

Buster waited at the top of the run. withHis handler. Buster was given the order after they skied part of the slope. toSearch.

He raced down the slope to find the scent. Buster sprinted down the slope and found Dunbar’s scent after a few minutes.

After a few minutes worth of frantic paddling, he was able to break through. He was successful and was rewarded withA game of tug-of war and praise.

Buster ran down the slope, got on the chairlift, and headed back. toThe top of the mountain.

“The life of an avalanche dog never stops,”Meyerholz stated.

Amy Alonzo is a Nevada-based reporter covering the outdoors, recreation, environment and culture of Lake Tahoe and Nevada. Reach her at [email protected] or (775) 741-8588. Here’s how to support ongoing coverage and local journalism.

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