E l e vat i o n s | C a n y o n s C a n i n e s
DOGS ON THE TEAM Canyons’ search and rescue dogs bring a whole new meaning to being man’s best friend.
PHOTOS BY MARK MAZIARZ.
n many ways, Molly is a typical Labrador retriever. She likes to be scratched behind the ears, spends a lot of time sleeping, loves to swim in the summer and roll in the snow in the winter. But when Molly’s working, her similarities with most other dogs end. At 10 years old, Molly is the oldest member of Canyons’ canine avalanche search and rescue team. From the time she and Canyons’ six other search and rescue dogs–Voodoo, Linus, Abby, Scoop, Murdock and Tucker–were just 8-weekold puppies they have trained for one purpose: to find a person buried in an avalanche. “Search and rescue dogs are a common and very important tool in avalanche recovery at ski resorts across the country and in the backcountry,” says Paul Santana, Canyons Ski Patrol snow safety coordinator. With more than 355 inches of the Greatest Snow on Earth annually, avalanches are a fact of life in Utah. And though preventive avalanche control work vastly minimizes in-resort slides, the prevalence of backcountry access statewide makes avalanche rescue dogs an integral component of Wasatch Back Country Rescue. The nonprofit search and rescue organization is made up of ski patrollers and search and rescue dogs from 11 Utah ski resorts, including Canyons. Like Molly, Canyons’ six other search and rescue dogs are Labrador retrievers. “Labs are bred to search birds in dense cover or water, which is essentially the same as searching for a person in an avalanche,” Santana says. And unlike other search and rescue breeds, Labs are amenable to performing for multiple handlers and are very people friendly. Though these dogs are trained to perform searches quickly–a successful dog team will locate and dig up a buried skier within 20 minutes–the term “search and rescue” is a bit of a misnomer. Carrying the correct equipment gives a skier or snowboarder the best chance of surviving being buried in an avalanche. In other words, if you do choose to ski or ride outside the resorts, you should always have a transceiver, probe, shovel and, most importantly, a buddy with you at all times. Better yet, hire a guide service like Wasatch Powderbird Guides (powderbird.com), which offers heli-skiing excursions from Red Pine Lodge when conditions are right, to show you around in Utah’s stunning backcountry wilderness.
Canyons’ search and rescue dogs are a typical sight at the top of chair lifts and at ski patrol outposts throughout the resort. A respectful rule of thumb when you see these pooches on the mountain is to ask the handlers if they are working before you reach down to pet or play. “These dogs aren’t like seeing eye dogs that can’t interact with anyone but their owners. And most of the time we are happy to let them have attention and meet guests,” Santana says. “But when our dogs are working, they need to focus on what they are doing. It takes lots of practice to be able to find a person in an avalanche quickly, so practice is what we do every day.” Opposite Page: Canyons ski patroller Sam Lee and Linus. Left: Patroller Nat Grainger works with Paul Santana’s dog, Scoop. Above: Brett Jeppesen’s dog, Murdock, hangs out in a ski patrol hut.
these hardworking, lovable canines weekly in Canyons resort village (check with Guest Services for times). C A N Y O N S