One of the best features for SuperPro members is the ability to view timelapse webcams. You can timelapse ANY camera and see when the snow fell over the last 24 hours. This is helpful when investigating whether snow fell during the day and was skied or if the snow fell overnight and will be untouched when you arrive in the morning. Give the timelapse webcams a try with a free 10-day trial. This timelapse shows the snowcam at Loveland on March 11-12, 2013
This past Thursday I shared a bluebird morning at Abasin with the wagging tail, wet nose and kisses of Rio the avalanche dog. Rio, a Golden Retriever, is one of six dogs that work for the resort. She is currently one of the team's rookies, at 19 months old, but recently passed her certification test after a year and a half of training.
Rio strutting her stuff. Photo Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort.
Roughly seven weeks after birth, puppies are administered the Monk Test in order to determine temperament. This can reveal a dog’s search and prey drive. Further, although almost any dog can be trained to search, Goldens, Labs, German Sheppards, Border Collies, and Australian Sheppards are the most popular breeds. Once selected, training can start as early as five months old, which was the case with Rio. This involves persistent obedience training as well as avalanche rescue drills five days a week. Despite the demanding training regimen, for Rio it’s playtime, said Matt Norfleet, Rio’s handler and Arapahoe Basin ski patrol foreman.
“Rio starts her day off with a morning meeting with the rest of the dogs just hanging out. Then she can either take the chair up or ride on a snowmobile to the top of the mountain. We’re always training, drills can range from playing hide and seek to putting two victims in deep holes and doing a full drill.”
Rio and Norfleet’s ultimate goal was to pass the certification test. This test consisted of one to three burials plus scented articles. Norfleet was allowed to probe for victims, but Rio had to mark where to probe. The duo passed by uncovering all of the burials within the 20-minute time limit.
Rio doing what she does best during a drill. Photo Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort.
Now that Rio is certified, her main job is working for Arapahoe Basin. However, each day there is a team that is on call with search and rescue. If an avalanche dog is needed, a helicopter is dispatched to pick up the team and drop them off wherever they’re needed in the backcountry. A dog team will consist of the dog, the handler and an avalanche technician. Although live recoveries have occurred, avalanche dogs are typically used for body recovery said, Rob Ware, Rio’s owner and head of lift operations at Arapahoe Basin. Often times when a team is dispatched, the victims have been buried for longer than 15 minutes, after which survival rates drop exponentially. A victim’s best chance of survival are the people traveling in his group.
To put Rio’s smelling capabilities into perspective, a study by the Seattle Police Department found a human’s olfactory gland is roughly the size of a postage stamp while that of a German Sheppard is close to three feet long. Even more, humans have approximately 5 million receptor cells while a German Sheppard can have as many as 220 million. In other words, a dog’s sense of smell is around 44 times greater. The study also found that with odor detection training a dog’s sense of smell increases.
Digger, a retired avalanche dog still contributing to the team by mingling with guests. Photo Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort.
Despite the amount of training, Ware typically fronts the costs of her care.
“Training really doesn’t cost you anything except for your time and effort,” Ware said. “When Rio does get certified maybe the ski area will pick up her dog food and veterinary fees, but I don’t ask them to do it. I do this for the joy.”
The typical career of an avalanche rescue dog lasts as long as 12 years depending on health. But, as the dogs age and retire, many are still used as service animals. This ranges from greeting resort guests to making appearances at local schools.
“Just having dogs around is a great facet of the job,” Norfleet said. “Everyone really enjoys them and there are times when they provide a great service for us.”
The avalanche dog team at Arapahoe Basin. Top left to right: Kioni, Mia, and Ruby. Bottom left to right: Digger and Rio. Photo Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort.
"Every summer, forest fires burn wildly across the temperate mountain regions of the world. As destructive as they are, they have a purpose and beauty that often goes unappreciated. As winter arrives in the burned forest, so do the skiers. They have come to celebrate new lines opened up by the previous summer's fires that have now burned themselves out -- or have they?"
With a huge dump last night and snow relentlessly filling in tracks from two minutes before, the lines start to form at the bases of unopened lifts. Bomb concussions reverberate throughout the mountain as ski patrollers sweep the mountain to mitigate avalanche danger. Nevertheless, skiers and boarders watch as patrollers repeatedly finish their sweeps, and in the process, lap the lift line. People begin to complain, fidget, some even throw snowballs to vent their impatience. In this instant, everyone wishes they were a ski patroller. But, what many people do not realize is what it takes to be a patroller.
Last weekend I spoke with Copper Mountain ski patrol foreman, Nick Pollard.
Getting the apline safe for guests. Photo courtesty of Copper Mountain.
How long have you worked in the field, and what attracted you to being a patroller?
I wanted to be in an outdoors job and this was something that had interested me since I had started in the industry.
How many patrollers work for Copper?
We have around 60 paid professionals, roughly 40 volunteers, 20 Medical Volunteer Professionals, and 10 Junior Patrollers.
What’s a typical day?
Start off the day with a morning meeting. We then go to our assigned duty station where we start off our morning work missions, getting all the banners out and updating the grooming boards. Throughout the day we do trail checks and have to sit coverage in our assigned duty stations. We may have snow work depending on storms and or winds. Early season there is a lot of prep work that goes into getting trails opened, especially our avalanche terrain.
Patroller and his best friend. Photo courtesy of Copper Mountain.
What goes into avalanche mitigation?
We start our control work as soon as snow hits the ground. If we get early snow in October we may have to use an Avalauncher before entering this terrain. We start Nov. 1 and will start boot packing, ski packing and ski cutting once we have around 30 centimeters to one meter of snow. We continue to affect this terrain as storms come through with new snow. We usually boot pack most of our avalanche terrain then switch to ski packing and cutting. Explosives are used before we step foot on this terrain and usually after storm cycles. The reason we are able to open this steep rocky terrain is because of the dedication to this process. Having Spaulding Bowl, Union Peak, parts of Copper Bowl open on just over 100 inches of snow season to date is amazing!
Where do you spend most of your time working?
We are on two-week rotations through our three duty stations. Early season I spend most of my time at patrol headquarters. The events side of our business keeps me quite busy throughout the season. Weekdays we work 8-5 p.m., and Weekends/Holidays 7-5 p.m.
What is something about the job that riders don’t realize is so important or more behind the scenes that might surprise people?
I think the guest may not realize exactly how much work goes into opening our avalanche terrain. They also may not understand the hazards we put ourselves in to open that terrain.
Describe the ideal patroller? And, what does it take to become a patroller?
The ideal patroller brings an open mind, strong work ethic, and a “team” mentality. To become a patroller you have to attend one of the hiring clinics, March 15 and March 16, must have an EMT-B or at least be enrolled in a class, and be able to ski/ride in any conditions on any type of terrain.
What is your favorite perk and aspect of the job?
First tracks on a “POW” day is definitely a perk. Quite fun when it’s just you and your close friends. I think the constant learning is what keeps this job exciting.
Copper ski patrollers conducting a drill. Courtesty of Copper Mountain.
Great perspective about ski culture "across the pond" from the US: