Utah avalanche dog training program marks 40th year

Posted at 10:31 PM, Jan 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-12 09:55:44-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has one of the world's longest-running avalanche dog training programs.  This year marks 40 years for Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, and people from all over the world are visiting Utah this week to train their dogs for avalanche rescues.

When minutes matter and lives are on the line, avalanche rescue dogs are a victim's best bet for survival.

“A dog can clear an avalanche site in less than 20 minutes. The same site, it would take 150 rescuers to clear in 3 hours,” said Tracy Christensen, President of Wasatch Backcountry Rescue.

Wasatch Backcountry is hosting an international training summit in Little Cottonwood Canyon, welcoming in 30 handlers and their dogs.

“We drove out two days to get here and the focus is on getting these dogs really trained on how to find people under the snow,” said Tyler Buwalda, Ski Patroler Mt. Bachelor, Bend Oregon.

Many teams are already certified for avalanche rescue, but they still attend the training sessions to sharpen their skills in different scenarios.

“Knowing how they operate in the snow and their body reactions are huge,” Buwalda said.

The drills help strengthen that bond between animal and handler.  In one of the drills, avalanche dogs rescued a person inside a car that had been buried in snow.

The dogs also learn to pick up scents from clothing packed under the snow. Drills like these help avalanche rescue crews train for the inevitable.

“We want to be prepared for the next call-out,” Christensen said.

The dogs have been working hard all week and their training comes to an end Thursday.

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