Ember, an 8-week-old black lab, begins training avalanche search and rescue dogs
Purgatory Resort welcomes a new member to its team of ski patrollers.
Ember, an 8-week-old black Labrador Retriever, will join the Purgatory Resort Avalanche Search and Rescue Team to help keep winter visitors safe in Purgatory and the surrounding San Juan Mountains.
“Speed is critical in avalanche rescues, with victims unlikely to survive if buried for 30 minutes or more,” said Blayne Woods, Purgatory Ski Patrol Manager, EMT-IV and Ember’s manager. “In five or ten minutes, a trained avalanche dog can search an area the size of a football field. In contrast, it would take about 4 hours for one person to search the same area. Since the odds of surviving an avalanche plummet after 15 minutes, a team of trained dogs can be the difference between life and death. For a skier trapped on a snowy mountain, an avy dog is your best friend.
Ember is owned by Bristlecone Avalanche Rescue K9s (BARK), a 501(c)3 nonprofit foundation established in 2016 to train and support active and retired avalanche rescue dogs. BARK is based at Purgatory Resort with dogs Lida, Carson and new pup Ember.
Avalanche dog handlers like Woods are typically search and rescue personnel with extensive first aid and backcountry skills, including avalanche courses and certifications.
Ember and Woods will train as a team, following the Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment (C-RAD) validation protocol for certification of rescue dogs. Full Avalanche Rescue certification typically takes two to three years from puppyhood and includes both dog and handler. A validated team – a team that can be used and trusted in rescues – must be able to find two buried human victims and two buried clothing or equipment in 40 minutes.
Ember will spend her first year learning basic obedience, techniques for moving with a skier, loading and unloading a chairlift, riding snowmobiles and snowmobiles. She will also practice exercises ranging from basic hide-and-seek to finding buried “victims” in snow caves and finding items. Starting this fall, Woods and Ember will travel to Summit County to attend a series of C-RAD training courses.
Avalanches occur in the high mountains of Colorado as a result of snow accumulation on steep slopes. If the snowpack becomes unstable, it can suddenly break off and move rapidly downhill with enough force to destroy structures and uproot or snap large trees. With steep slopes, lots of snow, and wildly fluctuating temperatures, Colorado’s San Juan Mountains feature some of the most complex avalanche terrain and snowpack conditions in the United States.
“We are thrilled to welcome Ember to our dedicated team of ski patrol professionals,” said Jim Brantley, Director of Mountain Operations. “Helping people enjoy our mountain safely is our primary goal. People love dogs, and avy dogs help raise awareness of the many dangers of traveling in avalanche terrain. We are proud to partner with BARK and are grateful to them for providing rescue dogs to help our patrollers work more efficiently.
The Purgatory snow safety program operates throughout the winter season. The Purgatory Ski Patrol is trained in avalanche safety and regularly performs avalanche forecasting and control work, as well as hazard monitoring and protective measures. Outside the eastern boundary of Purgatory Resort, the Ski Patrol operates several avalanche starting areas in the areas of Monkey Brains, Monkey Gully, Monkey Launch Chutes, Sun Dog, and Columbine Gully. The resort said it was essential that skiers and snowboarders respect ski area boundaries and avalanche closure zones.
For current forecasts and avalanche danger ratings, visit https://avalanche.state.co.us/.
For more information on BARK, visit barkleecanyon.com.