Val’s Ventures: Avalanche Rescue Dogs

Val's Ventures

MONARCH, Colo. — For these fidos, it’s find instead of fetch. Avalanche rescue dogs are extremely loyal and important members of mountain ski patrol.

They’re trained to use their sense of smell to find and dig out people who are buried in the snow. These dogs are always on their paws, ready to save the day if needed.

As part of Monarch Mountain’s Avalanche Rescue Training, ski patrol buried one of FOX21’s Meteorologists for the dogs to find. Crews are creating a situation where someone is buried in an avalanche, making it as realistic and challenging as possible for the dogs. Ski patrol calls it a live burial.

“We have a cave dug and then we put what we call our victim into the hole, bury them in there,” Monarch Mountain Ski Patrol Director Zach Moore said. “The dogs have to find the scent, sniff them out and then dig in and get the victim.”

The smiling, 9-year-old black lab named Anchin has trained with Moore since he was a puppy. Moore said avalanche rescue dogs have challenging training that starts at a young age. They work their way up to live burials that they practice weekly to keep honing in on their skills.

These rescue dogs also have good hunting instincts that are put to good use on the slopes. Anchin actually means hunter in Mongolian, and he definitely lives up to his name. While Anchin loves rolling around in the snow every chance he gets, he’s quick to switch into rescue mode when Moore gives him the cue.

Anchin and Moore invited me to be their victim one day at training. I trusted Anchin would get me out and he certainly did. It took him only minutes to find and dig me out of the snow cave at the top of Monarch’s Breezeway lift. Moore waited around 15 minutes for my scent to fade off the surface snow before sending Anchin to search.

“You’re smell comes out of the snow in a small cone shape. The wind will push it downhill or uphill and the dog is trying to find that scent cone,” said Moore.

Ski patrollers, like Moore, mitigate Monarch’s avalanche risk daily to prevent slides within ski area boundaries. They thoroughly look at their terrain every day to assess the avalanche risk. Crews will trigger small, controlled avalanches when no one is on the slopes.

“Avalanches are really scary. As soon as you do start sliding, the snow becomes like liquid so it’s like a water coming down the slopes and as soon as it starts to slow down, it sets up like concrete,” said Moore.

Moore said you can hardly breathe or move when buried in an avalanche and every minute counts in a rescue mission. He adds being found within 10 to 15 minutes of being buried is your best chance for survival.

Anchin is one of Monarch’s four certified C-RAD dogs. C-RAD stands for Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment. The non-profit was created after a deadly avalanche outside the Breckenridge Ski area in 1987.

The organization’s goal is to coordinate avalanche response across Colorado with trained dogs who are ready for search and rescue deployment. C-RAD has grown over the years and continues training future rescue dogs.

In the end, it was another successful day of training for Anchin. Moore rewarded Anchin for finding Val with hugs, positive words and a game of fetch. After a hard day’s work, Anchin looks forward to his ride down the mountain. He’s one happy dog as Moore skis down Monarch pulling Anchin behind him on his very own sled.

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