Leading The Pack: Inside K9 Avy At Grand Targhee Resort, WY

Paulie | | Featured ArticleFeatured Article
Pack Life. Image: courtesy GTR

Brought to you by Grand Targhee Resort

It’s a gorgeous day high atop Grand Targhee Resort, and an Avy Dog is joyfully bounding from the patrol shack, geared-up to get to work. Its paws kick up snow, its ears flap like wings, and its eyes when they assess me are brimming with a mixture of excitement (and sympathy?) for the human they are trained to keep safe on the mountain.

GTK9: peak professionals. Image: P.M.Fadden

These days the proverbial bar has never been higher when it comes to recreational access, especially in the Teton Mountains and at Targhee, which is why the nonprofit K9 teams at the ‘Ghee play such a vital role.

Whether on two or four legs, Targhee’s GTK9 unit is a dedicated crew. And it abides thanks to much-appreciated philanthropy or epic community highlights such as this year’s Grand Targhee ’Powder Pig’ Silent Auction and Raffle going on all month. Success in such fundraising equates to the ability to participate in training or validation courses. That means a stronger program overall. And a stronger program means an improved chance of saving lives.

Director of Ski Patrol, Joe Calder, beside Calvin, one of the five dynamic duos that comprise GTK9. Image: P.M.Fadden

“The goal is to be a resource for the community at large,” Director of Ski Patrol at Targhee, Joe Calder said.

Having been with the GTK9 program since its start, Calder attests to the heritage and the evolution of the Canine Avalanche program at the popular Teton Valley resort.  

Bird’s eye on Grand Targhee Resort. Image: P.M.Fadden

To hear it described, Grand Targhee is Graceland for dog teams. Handlers and their pups have 100% support from their fellow mountain crew, such as Patrol or Grooming.

The Avy Dog program itself traces its roots at Targhee back to the mid-nineties. And today, as then, the backbone of the work remains the motivated individuals who give of their own time and resources to work beside our four-legged friends to ensure that we´re all that much safer when on snow.

GTK9: on station. Image: P.M.Fadden

Targhee’s GTK9 crew this (and every) year is a balance of human collaboration (shoulder-to-shoulder) with dogs. The 2021 members include:

Calvin(handled by Director of Patrol, Joe): the youngblood; At only 8 months, this trainee is already showing solid potential while rockin’ that timeless puppy charm.

Levi(handled by Patroller, Heather): parts gazelle, velociraptor, and border collie, he’s a veteran of three seasons and Targhee’s most recently CARDA-validated dog.

Mikko(handled by Patroller Casey): at nearly 5yrs-old, Miko is at his searching peak. Validated since his second year, this seasoned pro pulls summer tours with Teton County Search and Rescue.

Ivy(handled by Patroller, Becca): she cut her teeth coming up Targhee as a tiny pup. Seven years later, she’s a staple of the resort’s snow safety scene. She knows the game and is psyched about coming to work.´

-Tele Mundo(handled by Lead Incident Investigator Dan): while a puppy and suffering a broken leg, Kelly was the sole survivor of a litter abandoned in a bag. Two years later, she’s known as the Avy Squirrel, possessing a speed matched only by her sweetness.

Friends for life. Image: courtesy GTR

“Canine teams are some of the best avalanche professionals and best people you could have the pleasure of meeting or working with,” Casey O’Connor said, a seasoned patroller and handler with GTR K9. “The dogs are a great tool of the rescue communities, and I don’t see an end in sight to needing their services.”

Those services depend upon donations and rip-snortin’ fundraising fun.

In 2021, GTK9, with the Grand Targhee community’s unwavering support at large, unveiled a silent auction and raffle that is rolling until January 31st and boasting a head-turning stockpile of top-shelf prizes.

Help them help us. GTK9 performs a valuable service to the mountain community. Image: courtesy GTR

Thanks to the current bio-climate, the format this year is virtual, but it allows GTK9 to reach the whole Targhee community, near or far. This is particularly important during a pandemic, which has convinced many of the resort’s mainstays to stay home.

Participation in the auction/raffle translates directly into support for the nonprofit Avy Dog program. That funding goes towards feeding, validation, pet care, and training–related travel for the dogs and their handlers.

For Becca and dog Ivy GTK9 is a team effort. Image: P.M.Fadden

“The reality is that the ski industry is seeing more people skiing steeper terrain and accessing backcountry,” handler and on-call patroller Becca Parkinson said. “Resorts are offering that access via gates as they’re continuing to develop services in avalanche mitigation, so the ability to have every tool at hand to answer any need from the public is huge.”

Have dog, will ski. Image: courtesy GTR

Recognizing the win-win nature of skiing’s relationship with man’s best friend underscores the importance of programs that facilitate avy dogs’ presence on-mountain. It also highlights the worthy cause that is Targhee’s ‘Powder Pig’ Silent Auction and Raffle.

“It adds stoke to the crew and to the mountain,” adds Daniel Nagy, Lead Incident Investigator at Grand Targhee Resort. “Who wouldn’t value the availability of a cute, furry tool which does that, as well as doing its job?”

Meanwhile, the Avy Dog, which had first assessed me so sympathetically, is off bounding upslope through fresh snow. We’re headed to an elevated position to shoot photos to accompany this piece. But to the dog, it’s another awesome opportunity to get the job done at Grand Targhee.

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