Meet the Donner Summit Avalanche Dogs
Meet the Donner Summit Avalanche Dogs while skiing with The Sugar Bowl Ski Patrol. March 17, 2021
Jason Bean, Reno Gazette Journal
Buster’s workday at Sugar Bowl Resort starts withA solid game of tug-of war. Nova, Nova’s fellow worker, is the first to start her day. Take a hard roll in the snow
Buster and Nova Graupel love their black Labradors, Griffey and Graupel. They love to play, frolic and have a lot of fun. They are also critical members of the resort’s ski patrolTeam.
Many people associate avalanches with Backcountry skiing or riding. Get ready for “what-if”Situation: Many Tahoe skiResorts employ dogs to serve as ski patrol officers.
“There’s no technology in the world that can compete with a dog’s nose (if you get buried),”Sugar Bowl ski patroller Andrew Pinkham.
Dogs that need work
The dogsThat serves on ski patrol aren’t your run-of-the-mill house dogs.
Patrol officers look out for dogs that have high drive – ones they say make “bad pets.”
“We want dogs that really need a job,”Pinkham declared.
The handlers are the ones who do the hard work withBreeders and agencies toFind out dogs suitable for the position – Graupel comes from a line of working dogsInclude parents who serve at the Canadian border with their children. PatrolYou will be looking for explosives.
“Many pet owners want their dog to hang out and cuddle on the couch. We look for dogs that are kind of fiery and have a lot of drive to search and hunt so we can ask them to perform these longer, harder tasks in mountain environments,”Chase Allstadt is skiAlpine Meadows’ dog team coordinator, and also a patroller “That’s what I share with my handlers – you are getting a dog your spouse may not love.”
Each handler purchases and trains his or her dog, and it’s not cheap. Sugar Bowl’s handlers estimate they spend about $1,500 on each dog.
“It’s part of the passion of what we love to do – being on the mountain and keeping people safe,” said Mike Trombetta, Graupel’s handler. “I am passionate about avalanche safety and awareness, and the dogs are another tool for the box.”
Are you properly training your dogs? To Play the Game “hide and seek,”Courtney Meyerholz from Sugar Bowl Patrol said this replicates the experience of finding people under an avalanche.
End result: The dogsLearntoDifferentiate the smells of people trapped under the snow or skiers/riders.
“These dogs are trained to detect human scents under the snow,”Allstadt declared. “There may be human scents on the surface of the snow, and the dogs may acknowledge that, but that is not what the dog is trained to go out there to do. It is trained to pursue human scent to its source. Our dogs are trained to find any human scent under the snow, rather than a specific scent.”
Sugar Bowl currently has two dogs that are validated – meaning they are qualified to participate in search and rescue operations – and two that are working toward validation. There are three Alpine Meadows-validated Search and Rescue Operations. There are three additional dogs in training.
The process takes about two years. toThree years toTrain the dogs before they are validated by the Placer County Sheriff’s Office.
To validate a dog, you must obtain it. “victim”A 100×100 meter search field is completed in 10 minutes. Extra time is also given to the dog to find three buried items of clothing while its handler must find hidden beacons – transceivers that backcountry skiers and riders wear in case they are caught in an avalanche.
“The whole process of bringing these dogs through until they validate is a journey,”Chris Dunbar, who works for Sugar Bowl, said: withNova, Nova’s dog. “But once you’re at the end, it’s really rewarding to see it pay off.”
Mobilizing their Resources
Sugar Bowl and Alpine Meadow’s patrolMembers estimate their dogsYou can find someone buried up to10 to 12 feet below the surface Studies show that 93 percent to 94 percent of avalanche victims are recovered alive if they are found within 15 minutes – after that, the odds of survival drop significantly.
Sugar Bowls as well as Alpine Meadows have both experienced a decline in the amount of avalanches over the years.
“It’s a very low occurrence,”Meyerholz said.
“It is quite likely in a dog’s career, that they never respond,”Allstadt spoke. “Most of our skiPatrollers who volunteer to work outside resorts may experience slides. Call-outs are usually outside the resorts. skiCapacity for resort.”
In his 15 years on Alpine Meadows’ ski patrol, all the searches he’s responded to have been outside the resort, he said. These situations were the ones where avalanche beacons did not locate the victim. “at that point in time, you’ve gotta rely on a dog. It’s the only tool that hasn’t been tried.”
Buster, who Meyerholz co-handles with Pinkham, has been mobilized for action three times but has never been deployed at the resort.
“You mobilize all your resources, but hopefully you don’t have to use them,”Meyerholz.
Although resort avalanches can be rare, they do happen.
A Sugar Bowl rider that travelled beyond the bounds of his riding area in 2016 triggered an avalanche. Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe skier, who was out of bounds, was also killed by an avalanche in 2016. A 2020 avalanche at Alpine Meadows resulted in the death of one person.
“The ski resorts in the Tahoe area do a really good job mitigating the avalanche hazards,”JB Brown is the president of Sierra Avalanche Center. Brown said he is not aware of any recent avalanches in the area. There has been one fatal avalanche in the backcountry this year. A 43-year-old man died March 20 in an avalanche triggered by a collapsing cornice near Truckee, California.
Simulating a rescue
During a training exercise for the RGJ toDunbar, observe, of the Sugar Bowl ski patrolWas? “rescued”Starting at avalancheSimulation at Sugar Bowl
Dunbar crawled through the snow, ungroomed from trees to bottom of snow cave. Dunbar was placed 3ft below the ground by another patroller. He took off his skis and poles and put snowblocks on top.
A few rays of sunlight made their way through cracks in the snow as Dunbar sat mostly in the dark. He could hear people outside, but those inside the cave couldn’t hear him.
Buster waited to be rescued at the finish of the race. With his handler. After they had skied a portion of the slope, Buster received the order. toSearch.
Buster raced down the slope in search of the scent. Buster sprinted down the slope and found Dunbar’s scent after a few minutes.
He was finally able to get through after a couple of minutes of paddling and frantic effort. The game of tugo war was won by him and he was awarded praise and a trophy.
Buster ran down and got back on the chairlift. The top of the mountain
“The life of an avalanche dog never stops,”Meyerholz said.
Amy Alonzo, a Nevada reporter, covers the outdoor, recreation and culture in Lake Tahoe and Nevada. You can reach her at [email protected] or (775) 741-8588. Here’s how to support ongoing coverage and local journalism.