“Man’s best friend” takes on new meaning thanks to the avalanche dogs of Wasatch Backcountry Rescue.
Outdoor enthusiasts hold few people in higher regard than the brave men and women who provide medical aid on the slopes – and sometimes these professionals are assisted by another kind of hero, who leads the way and finds the rescue. Thanks to nonprofit Wasatch Backcountry Rescue’s (WBR) International Dog School, dogs around the country receive the intense training required of avalanche rescue dogs.
At WBR’s four-day school in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, dogs acquire and hone skills like jumping out of helicopters, riding ski lifts and finding buried people and cars, day and night. “These dogs are training while also getting to do everything a dog wants to do – run, be free, and follow their noses,” says WBR president Tracy Christensen. “We reinforce that natural behavior with this big game of hide-and-seek.” Training sessions are often followed with plenty of praise, cuddles and treats.
Patroller Julia Edwards and her dog, Piper, training to search for avalanche victims.
Upon returning to their own mountain communities, these pups have new knowledge learned at the oldest dog training school in the country. Training typically begins when the dogs are 6-8 weeks old, and most are certified around age 2. “However, it takes a lifetime to train an avalanche dog,” says Christensen. “From the time they’re a puppy to retirement age, they’re refining their skills.” Breeds of dogs vary, but those that seem to rise to the top have thick coats and stamina to conquer rough terrain – e.g., Labs, golden retrievers and German shepherds.
The Utah Avalanche Center recently announced that the 2016/2017 winter season was the first in Utah’s history where there wasn’t a single avalanche fatality in the state. This is huge news, considering there was more snow than usual. “We believe people are becoming more aware,” says Christensen. Helping to spread the word on outdoor safety are Subaru and the National Ski Patrol, via the annual WinterFest events they sponsor in roughly 10 ski resorts throughout the country. With s’mores and coffee in hand, guests can meet rescue dogs, check out Subaru vehicles and receive helpful outdoor safety tips. “The partnership between Subaru, National Ski Patrol and WBR is fantastic,” says Christensen. “We all have a great passion for the mountains, and Subaru truly represents the outdoor lifestyle.”
Learn more about Wasatch Backcountry Rescue’s International Dog School.