By a Nose 7

Colorado’s Avalanche Search & Rescue Dogs

It’s no secret that Coloradans have a special relationship with their dogs. But there’s a special faction of hardworking pups here in the state who take the idea of being man and woman’s best friend to a whole new level as they patrol Colorado’s mountain terrain during the winter season.

As residents and visitors flock to the mountains with each snow flurry, avalanche mitigation is of the utmost importance to Colorado ski resorts. Being conscious of avalanche danger is especially vital as the popularity of backcountry and side country skiing grows, which is even more hazardous because avalanche mitigation doesn’t typically take place in these out-of-bound areas. For Loveland Ski Area, just over 50 miles west of Denver, this high-risk avalanche terrain is abundant surrounding the resort.

“Providing ski areas and their surrounding terrain with teams of organized professionals and dogs to facilitate a rescue is essential,” says Michael Halajcsik, Ski Patroller with Loveland Ski Area. “Dogs effectively provide a chance of survival or recovery for victims without a beacon signal.”

After an avalanche, trained search and rescue dogs can search an acres-large area for buried victims exponentially faster than a team of humans can. That same cold, wet nose that somehow sniffs out the treats you thought you so expertly hid? Search and rescue dogs use it to hone in on the scents of humans in distress quickly and effectively in a situation when minutes count in the survivability window.

The Loveland Ski Area search and rescue program works with Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment (C-RAD), a group that encompasses many statewide resorts and agencies with certified rescue dogs, ski patrol handlers and avalanche technicians qualified to be flight deployed to rescue victims after an avalanche. Each day that a dog, their handler and an avalanche tech suits up, they contact Flight for Life® Colorado to let them know they have a team available for deployment in case of an avalanche. This partnership allows for the most immediate response to avalanches possible.

Through C-RAD, dogs like Bo, Halajcsik’s yellow labrador and avalanche search and rescue dog, go through a variety of seasonal training standardized for each ski area and agency. From extensive training scenarios to smaller day-to-day exercises, dogs like Bo stay tuned up and ready to spring into action should the worst occur.

So when you spot a four-legged ski patroller on the slopes this upcoming season, remember that they’re anything but out enjoying a wintertime walk. These diligent canines are a vital part of mountain safety programs and will be there, paws and sniffers at the ready, when you need them most this ski season.