CANINE SUPERSTARS For over 40 years, man’s best friend has protected the visitors and skiers of Alpine Meadows.
BY CHACO MOHLER
“Avalanche,” the walkie-talkie crackled. “All available employees report to Big Poma.” The year was 1975. I was a teenage “liftie” at Alpine Meadows, new to the mountains, and had never seen the frozen fury of an avalanche. When I arrived, a first line of searchers had formed midway up the path, some carrying long probe poles like ancient spears. The slide had poured out from the high slopes of Beaver Bowl, with witnesses seeing three, or maybe four skiers disappear in the white wave. Our spears and shovels were our only hope for finding them. Then a snowmobile arrived bringing additional help, two of America’s first avalanche dogs to be exact. The canines were trained by a newly formed organization called WOOF and led
by U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Don Huber in an effort to save those submerged beneath the snow. “Take a shovel,” the lift supervisor told me, “and follow Don.” We tried to keep up with the dogs, me digging wherever they lingered, mindful that time was running out on anyone trapped below. But the rookie dogs seemed unfocused. One rescuer had food in his pack—an obvious distraction. Don worked to keep them directed at parts of the slide with no other searchers. My memory is that the rookies helped find at least one body of the three unfortunates who perished that day. Seven years later, in the wake of a 20-plus-foot snowfall, the nation’s deadliest avalanche roared down from adjacent slopes at Alpine Meadows and exploded through a terminal WHERE GUEST BOOK