There is no national certification for avalanche dogs, but Taos Ski Valley requires each of its dogs to earn in-house certification.
Taos Ski Valley patrol dogs are cute, friendly and highly trained. It is the last point -- their well-honed and expert skill set -- that makes the team of canines so widely respected. After the inbounds avalanche swept up two skiers Thursday (Jan. 17) in the K3 chute of Kachina Peak, the patrol dogs were a part of the response team.
Jonathan Stuart, public relations manager for Taos Ski Valley, said three dogs have been on patrol for this season: Izzy, Ozlo and Saddie.
The Taos News photojournalist Morgan Timms was on the scene of the avalanche and captured photos of the dogs work.
"Taos Ski Valley Patrol has been doing the training since the early 1980s. We have a sub-department that trains and handles the dogs. Additionally, patrol goes to avalanche dog schools to stay up-to-date with training techniques," said Stuart.
There is no national certification for avalanche dogs, but Taos Ski Valley requires each of its dogs to earn in-house certification. The dogs have to complete training for one to two ski seasons before getting those credentials.
The dogs come primarily from breeders of hunting dogs and they join the team as puppies. The ski valley typically selects pups that are retriever-types and have a "high drive" to work.
"Their first year on the mountain, the dogs are slowly familiarized with the work environment, such as learning to load and ride on snowmobiles and chairlifts and in toboggans. From day one, obedience training is very important," Stuart explained. In training, the dogs must demonstrate very good skills at listening to commands. When a dog has matured sufficiently, they begin specialized advanced avalanche training. This routine starts with simple hide-and-seek games and then moves into rehearsing drills for multiple buried victims.
Pending its ongoing investigation, Taos Ski Valley is unable to confirm as of press time whether any dogs directly led rescuers to the two victims buried under the snowpack.
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