Meet the Latest Addition to the Avalanche Search & Rescue Team at Deer Valley, UT

SnowBrains | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Meet Maggie, the Search and Rescue dog in training. | Picture: Deer Valley Instagram/Blake Bellet

Meet the newest member of the Search and Rescue Team at Deer Valley, UT. Her name is Maggie and she is an 11-weeks-old puppy, training to work alongside her canine buddies Rooster, Ninja and Tingo, as well as Deer Valley Ski Patrol’s 70 full-time and part-time human professional ski patrollers. 

Meet the Team

Ninja is a 7 year old lab pointer mix and is ‘A’ certified and handled by Avalanche Mitigation Supervisor Sue Anderson.  Rooster is a 4 year old ‘A’ certified red-heeler mix and is handled by Patrol Supervisor Mark Chytka. Tingo is an almost 2 year old ‘B’ certified border collie/blue heeler mix, and joined the team in November 2021. Maggie enters the program as a level ‘C’. 

Level C designates a candidate entering the program. Level B is for dogs capable of searching within the ski area boundaries. Level A is the full certification and applies to dogs capable of searching both within the ski area and the backcountry. Dogs cannot be tested for Level A until they’re at least 18 month old. For most dogs, it often takes two winter seasons of work and training to pass the the Level A test.

Meet the team. | Picture: Deer Valley Instagram/Blake Bellet

All of Deer Valley’s rescue dogs are owned by their individual handlers but receive financial support from the resort in the form of food, medical expenses, funding to attend trainings and other miscellaneous training necessities. The training of the resorts rescue dogs includes both on and off mountain work as well as constant obedience. The dogs and their handlers have traveled to and attended various dog schools including Steven’s Pass in Washington state, and both Whistler and Kicking Horse in British Columbia and Switzerland.

The Deer Valley Avalanche Dog program is more than 25 years old and Wasatch Backcountry Rescue oversees the training and certifications of the search and rescue dogs in nine local ski areas, accounting for anywhere between 30-40 dogs.

In their Deer Valley Blog, Ski Patroller Chris Erkkila explained the selection process for avalanche dogs, “When we select a puppy. We have a series of puppy aptitude tests. In every litter of puppies there’s an Alpha pup, the most aggressive and strongest of the litter. We generally look for the next pup down from the Alpha, one that doesn’t seem to be scared of anything, has strong senses, is apt to attach and interact with humans. We also want a dog that is very curious, has high energy and a strong drive.”


Rescue dogs
Maggie with Tingo and Ninja. | Picture: Deer Valley Instagram/Blake Bellet

The selected dogs are trained over several months. Initially in a playful way by hiding a dog toy behind a tree or rock, and steadily making it harder and burying them under the snow. Then the toy is substituted for items of clothing carrying a human scent and finally they learn to search for a real person. First, by hiding behind a tree, before the person is actually hidden under some snow. A person’s scent can be picked up by a dog through the snow and avalanche dogs can sniff out people buried under up to 15 feet of snow.

Training is maintained throughout the year. During summer months their handlers will take them around the resort while mountain biking or working on trails to help familiarize them with the mountain environment.

Avalanche dogs at Deer Valley play an important part in search and rescue efforts. If you want to know more about the work of avalanche dogs at Deer Valley, visit their blog or the Wasatch Backcountry Rescue website.

Maggie and her friends play an important part in search and rescue at Deer Valley. | Picture: Deer Valley Instagram/Blake Bellet

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