By Amy Higgins
When you approach a working dog, it’s hard to resist reaching out to pet its furry face. The good news is, at Colorado’s ski resorts you can indulge, ski patrollers say. With permission, of course.
Powder, for instance, is a Saint Bernard that came onboard the Steamboat Ski Resort ski patrol team as a pup in the spring of 2017. Seeing as they don’t have a lot of avalanche-prone terrain at Steamboat, Powder mixes it up with the guests of the mountain instead.
“Powder’s job is mountain safety dog,” says Duncan Draper, ski patrol supervisor at Steamboat and Powder’s handler. “Powder’s job is to look cute and wiggle and she does very well,” he jokes, but admits she’s a tool to lure in guests for a safety lesson as well.
“I’ll hang out at the base area in the morning and get a chance to talk to guests who may not be savvy,” Draper explains. “They’re always intrigued by the dog. They say hi to Powder and I get my chance to remind the kids and adults to make sure to stop where people can see you, make sure you look up the hill before your start, and don’t hit anybody.” If Draper and Powder can get those three ideas across to the folks who visit the resort, they did a valuable thing.
When they’re not searching or training, oftentimes avalanche dogs are simply hanging out in the patrol shack or meeting with visitors. “People can come in and out of the patrol shack and meet the dogs there,” says Dan Berg, lead patroller on the Snowmass avalanche rescue dog program. The resort also has demonstrations and programs with Berg’s avy dogs Piper, Odin, Mabel and Hatchet. These are great opportunities to get up close and personal with the dogs.
Same goes for Monarch Mountain’s avalanche dogs. Later in the ski season, the resort holds a kid’s festival where avy dogs Anchin, Glen and Suka along with avalanche-dog-in-training Glen meet the kids. “We take the dogs to the base area at Monarch and let the kids pet them and they ask questions about them — we give them information about what they do, how they do it,” says Rich Rogers, the lead avalanche dog handler at Monarch.
While the avy dogs at Winter Park are usually training, every now and then they too take a break to socialize with the guests. “Once in a while they’ll do a fun run with us where we drop down the mountain real slowly and do kind of a meet and greet and talk to people. Basically, make people smile all day,” explains Rick LaRocca, Winter Park ski patroller and handler of Nuggit.
Some of these dogs have even reached a sort of celebrity status. Berg says a couple years ago the Discovery Channel contacted a local film company: Vital films. The Aspen-based production company produced a documentary with Plimsoll Productions called “Dogs: The Untold Story.” The documentary’s star was none other than Piper, one of Snowmass’s avy dogs. Check it out at http://vitalfilms.com/portfolio/dogs-untold-story/.
And if you need a little pick me up, be sure to check out Steamboat’s Powder on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtUhaicv4_U&t=2s. If this sweet fur ball doesn’t persuade you to hit the slopes, what will?
Get more canine enjoyment by reading more about Monarch Mountain’s newest addition, Glen, at http://www.elevationoutdoors.com/monarch-mountains-newest-avalanche-dog-just-cute-face/ and the team at Winter Park at https://winterparktimes.com/news/avalanche-search-dogs-join-winter-park-team/.