Wednesday, August 8

Heidi, the new Avalanche Rescue Dog

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Aug 8, 2018

Heidi, the new Avalanche Rescue Dog

As cute as Heidi is today, in two years-time this pup will be the leading avalanche dog of the Canadian Rockies!


At Sunshine Village, we focus on safety and fun. For skiers and snowboarders, avalanches are a real risk. At Sunshine, before we open, all our terrain is “back-country.” Throughout the ski and snowboard season, our snow safety team manages the snowpack to reduce risks related to weak or changing snowpacks.


Snow safety is a function of our operation that we take seriously. Our team studies our snow and keeps current on all aspects of avalanche training. This summer we welcomed a new, and charming, member to our snow safety team. Heidi, the avalanche puppy.

Not all dogs can handle the bark of this big responsibility. The competition for “Sunshine’s Avalanche Puppy” was fierce, but Heidi managed to beat all the other candidates with her cute puppy face and playful personality.


Over the next couple of years, Heidi will learn the ropes as she studies in the paw prints of her predecessor. In snow safety departments across North America, Avalanche dogs are reliable and relied on team members. These working dogs tend to be smart and diligent. When working on a rescue, these highly-trained canines are like “a dog with a bone.”


In rescue situations, avalanche dogs are relied on when technology fails. Avalanche dogs are trained to pick up the scent of a person below the snow and run toward that scent, where human rescuers will help them dig.


At only 8 weeks old, this adorable black Labrador puppy is already at home at Sunshine Village. If you don’t know her yet, here’s a ‘Try not to aww’ video of Heidi, our newest and undoubtedly cutest team member:



What does it take to be an Avalanche Rescue Dog?


1.       A keen sense of smell

Avalanche dogs must have a great nose and sense for hunting. Breeds such as Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Border Collies and Labradors are usually perfect for this job. Did you know that some avalanche dogs can smell people that are buried under 15 feet (4.6 meters) of snow? When trained avalanche dogs can search an area and locate a person in a couple of minutes; covering the same zone that would take humans hours or even days.


2.      Friendliness

These puppies will be working with people, and around people. So friendliness is a must.


3.      A Coachable Personality

Training to become an avalanche dog begins in puppy-hood. Dogs can start training when they’re just a few weeks old. Although, most trainees begin when they’re 6 to 12 months old. In the first months, dogs spend time becoming familiar to the sights and sounds of the ski resort. They need to get exposed to the people, the place and, of course, the action. During this stage, it’s important that the pup in training develops a strong bond with his or her handler. As the dog ages, the training becomes more intense. In the pups so-called teenager years, the dog will start to refine her senses.


4.       A Two-Year Time Investment

It usually takes two years for a dog in training to become fully certified. Becoming a real rescue dog requires time and effort from both the dog and the handler. After two full years of intense training, dogs are usually ready to pass the test that will lead them to a certification. Heidi’s official training, as it is for many avalanche dog trainees, will start at the beginning of the ski season. Her first year at Sunshine will be accompanied with a full year puppy course. In her second year, Heidi and her handler will go through a more rigorous year of training, which will get them ready for their certification.


Once certified, Labradors like Heidi generally have a working life of 8 – 10 years. Throughout Heidi’s career, she will need to stay current on her courses and training. She will regularly be tested, to ensure her skills are up to the task.


5.       Good Grades

Getting the official “Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog,” certification involves a series of tests for both the handler and the dog. During the test, Heidi and her handler will be exposed to a variety of real-life scenarios. One of the most common tests for avalanche dogs is to find and unbury an array of articles that hold human scent. These items are buried 30 inches beneath the snow, a bit more than the size of an adult Labrador. Part of the test also requires the dog to be able to find an actual person who has been buried below the surface of the snow.

Luckily Heidi already has a jump start on her training. As her fellow co-workers have started playing with her by teaching her a few games, like hide-and-seek, that will be a part of her certification test.



Once fully trained, we are certain that Heidi will be a crucial member in the rescue team.

Welcome to the Sunshine Team, Heide!