At the Alyeska Resort near Anchorage, Alaska, an employee is training to save lives in the event of an avalanche. When they’re finished, they’ll be able to smell bodies trapped beneath a foot of snow. Oh yeah, that employee is a dog.
Stormy the 16-week-old Golden Retriever puppy is small and immature now, but she’ll grow up to be a skilled avalanche search and rescue dog. Starting her training early, she’ll be able to ensure people’s safety at a young age.
Cody Burns, the assistant ski patrol director at Alyeska, is Stormy’s handler. Though he has experience working with search and rescue dogs, Stormy is the first one he’s trained on his own.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to have a dog that I can take to work with me and train to help find people,” Burns told Anchorage Daily News.
The Perfect Pup For The Job
Burns traveled to California in 2021 to meet the litter Stormy came from. These puppies’ parents and grandparents were hunting dogs that competed in American Kennel Club field trials.
Because of their high prey drive and fearless energy, Golden Retrievers make great search and rescue dogs. Burns knew Stormy had the right stuff the moment he met her as a puppy.
“I pretty much got the choice pick of the litter. She is the most active and brave puppy out of the whole bunch of them … which is perfect for what I need because she needs to keep searching no matter what the conditions are.”
Announcing their new employee on Facebook, the Alyeska Resort wrote:
“She’ll be training for the next two years so she can become a certified avalanche rescue dog. For now, her job is to be happy, healthy and super cute.”
Preparing For Hero Work
So far, young Stormy has already learned a lot. In addition to basic obedience training (sit, stay, play dead, etc.) she knows how to jump onto a chairlift so she can ride to the top of the mountain.
Stormy also has begun basic search training. Burns will run and hide behind something while someone else holds Stormy, and when she finds her handler she gets rewarded with a toy.
Later, Stormy will learn to alert (bark) when she finds who or what she’s meant to be looking for. When she’s fully trained, she’ll be able to work with any member of the ski patrol staff, not just Burns.
Since the chances of surviving an avalanche burial significantly drop after 15 minutes, time is of the essence. Avalanche dogs can search large areas faster than a probe line, so they’re important fixtures at many ski resorts.
Completing the training process to become an avalanche rescue dog can take years, but Burns hopes Stormy will be certified by the spring of 2023. Follow her journey on Instagram.