Utah Snow Paw-trol


Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Annie Duong

Dogs are used in a variety of professions from herding animals in agriculture to detecting chemicals, bombs and other potentially dangerous substances. Furthermore, dogs not only provide functional use to humans but also emotional and physical support. Whether it’s a family pet that keeps you warm on the couch or a hard-working police dog protecting their handler, dogs are an important part of our day-to-day lives. That’s no different at ski resorts. Rescue dogs are an integral part of any kind of safety patrol team. With winter in full swing, the main priority of ski resorts is to keep their guests safe. Every ski resort has a patrol team dedicated to promoting and providing safety. They provide medical, rescue, and hazard prevention services that ensure the well-being of everyone in and around the resorts. While ski patrol teams consist of trained professionals and volunteers, avalanche dogs play a very important role on these teams.

It says it all in their job title. Avalanche dogs or “Avi-dogs” can be found on nearly every ski patrol safety team. Avalanches are a serious matter and affect everyone in the mountains, whether you like to believe it or not. While ski resorts used controlled explosions and terrain closure to minimize risk, avalanches kill nearly 150 people each year (an average of 25 in the U.S.). Avi-dogs play a key role in the search and rescue of a victim. These smart and hard-working dogs are trained year-round to ensure peak performance. The dogs used are typically hunting breeds who have unique and strong senses. Their main purpose is to find victims buried under feet of snow, a job well-suited for their extraordinary perception. Breeds like Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Labradors (or any mix that includes these types) are predominant in this doggie career path. Handlers also mention that herding breeds are successful avi-dogs as well. These dogs have a special bond with their handlers, and depending on the ski patrol teams, some avi-dogs have up to three handlers and must be sociable. Though avalanches are not as frequent in and/or around ski resorts as they are in the backcountry, avalanche dogs are a vital part of any ski patrol team.

Even though ski patrol teams and their avalanche dogs are trained professionals, that doesn’t mean just anyone can ski and snowboard anywhere they want. No matter what your skill level, avalanches are equal opportunity killers. Only 33% of victims survive an hour in an avalanche. The most common causes of death are suffocation, wounds, and hypothermia. So be sure to be prepared before trekking into the beautiful snowy mountains!