An inside look at avalanche rescue demonstrations


It was like a game of hide and seek. The ultimate game of hide and seek actually.

A little while ago, I was the guinea pig for an avalanche rescue demonstration. This involved crawling into a man-made snow hole and having the opening covered with snow blocks and extra snow. You should have seen the look on my face when I peered down into the opening of what I would consider a dark cave.

Luckily, I’m not claustrophobic, and the hole I was submerged in was big enough to provide comfort. So much comfort, that once I was buried and the silence surrounded me, I kinda took a little cat nap. Ssshh, don’t tell.

For the most real-life scenario, patrollers wait anywhere from 10-20 minutes after burying someone to let the scent of the person dissipate just a little. So, I waited. And slept.

There was no indication of when the search began, but I could tell when Summit, the beautiful golden retriever that was ‘assigned’ to me, was close. I could hear him scampering across the top of hole, back and forth, locating the best area to begin digging. He was very methodical and very effective.

Then the digging started. He poked his head in and latched onto the scrap of fabric I was holding onto. I was so glad to see that wet nose and kept offering words of encouragement. He pulled and tugged and helped me out of the small opening he’d dug.

After the mock rescue, Summit’s handler Colton Terry took Summit aside and rewarded him. Not with treats, but with Summit’s favorite doggy toy and lots of praise and petting. Apparently, the dogs are only allowed to play with their favorite toy after a rescue, and boy was Summit excited.

So once I was out, the important question was asked. How long did it take Summit to find me once the search began? The answer: 4 minutes.

Rescue demos like these are vital to the training and maintaining of rescue skills and techniques for both avalanche dogs and their handlers, especially since similar to a live rescue scenario, the handler of the avalanche dog does not know the exact location of the person buried. You can definitely tell the dogs love their job.

For your chance to talk to the handlers and take your picture with a rescue dog, join the Heavenly Ski Patrol on April 14 from 4:30-8:30 p.m. on the top of the Heavenly Village parking garage for the 13th Annual Heavenly Ski Patrol Fundraiser Concert “Spring Thaw.” This is a big ‘thank you’ party for the community with drink specials, yummy food, raffle prizes and live music by Thrive, Jelly Bread and Groove Box. It is also an opportunity for Ski Patrol to give back to the community. This year, they will be distributing more than $100,000 to various local non-profit organizations. A $10 entrance donation automatically includes the chance to win a 2012-13 Tahoe Value Pass.

Basically, it’s a good time for a good cause. So find a patroller on the mountain now to pre-buy your ticket, and see you there!

~ Sally Gunter, Public Relations Coordinator



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