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Avalanche Dogs: Colorado's Unsung Heroes

We talk a lot about skiing, snowboard, and cross-country skiing, but it is also important to acknowledge that doing these activities is not without its risks, namely avalanches. According to Colorado.gov, there are around 2,300 avalanches in Colorado every season, making Colorado of the most dangerous states for avalanches in the country. However, there is a lot of safety precautions you can take while on the slopes, and there are numerous safety precautions around the state, such as their avalanche dogs!

Most of us forget about these unsung heroes, who help so many of our first responders on a daily basis. Here in Colorado, avalanche dogs are something we have all probably seen while out on the slopes. Each dog is paired with a handler and a technician; the technician is able to identify areas that are at risk of avalanches and after an avalanche, determine whether or not the scene is safe for rescue or recovery missions.

After these assessments are the dog and its handler begin searching the area of victims. These dogs use their heightened sense of smell and hearing, and verbal cues and body language from their handlers to locate victims. After the dog detects a victim, these dogs dig aggressively until they find the person. This continues until their area of the avalanche is cleared.

Avalanche dogs begin training when they are puppies, after passing an aptitude test that determines how they will train and work. Then, it is a lot of training for both the owner and the puppy. One of the most interesting trainings that these dogs go through is the ability to ride in a helicopter, snowmobile or car ride and then immediately begin searching for victims. These dogs have to be able to withstand these different modes of transportation to get to the avalanche sight as quickly as possible.

These dogs have tireless jobs, as do their handlers, but we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the winter sports season without them. Next time you see an avalanche dog or handler, make sure to thank them for all they do to make sure you can enjoy the snow.

Looking to be informed about potential avalanches and other safety tips, check out Summit County Rescue’s Twitter account for information about Summit County. P.S. they post PSAs from their avalanche dogs!

*Photo courtesy of Aspen Times Weekly.

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