Meet Deer Valley Resort’s newest avalanche search and rescue dog, Rooster.
Skiing is fun, exhilarating and Deer Valley Resort has its own ways to minimize the risk inherent with the joy of skiing, thanks to an original program that involves local doctors, nurses and its professional ski patrol staff. In this four-part interview, I sat down with Doctor Peter Taillac and Hylton Early, a Deer Valley Ski Patroller.
JF: Let’s start by doing a quick introduction, gentlemen…
Doctor Peter Taillac: I’m a clinical professor of emergency medicine at the University of Utah, and member of the Doctor Patrol here at Deer Valley Resort. I’m a full time emergency physician and take care of hurt and ill people for a living.
Hylton Early: I’ve been a ski patroller at Deer Valley Resort for four winter seasons. I’m an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) and outdoor emergency care technician.
JF: I wasn’t aware that, every day, there’s a doctor available to work with the Deer Valley ski patrol?
Hylton Early: That’s right; every day, we have at least one doctor on the mountain. Each doctor serves under the medical control of Doctor Robert Wynn, our medical director. The doctors are available on a daily basis should we need to consult on an incident. It might involve skiers that aren’t feeling well or aren’t quite sure what’s going on with them. Of course, it could also be a more serious traumatic injury for which we want to get our doctors’ expertise to see what we can be done for that patient.
JF: Are your doctors all skiers?
Hylton Early: Absolutely, our doctors are on skis and are available to come right to the scene of an incident. Often, this is the most critical moment when we’re about to make the initial transport and triage decisions for an injured skier.
JF: Is there any other role for these doctors?
Hylton Early: In fact there is; in addition to their on-hill duties, our doctors are also involved with our continuing education. As patrollers, we all have to meet certain requirement to be re-certified every four years, so these same doctors regularly lecture us, talking about specific topics, like lower leg trauma, head injuries, or dislocated shoulders, so we are totally dialed-on the subject when we’re confronted with it on the hill.
JF: I’ve also seen nurses around; are they part of the same program?
Hylton Early: Correct; we also have one nurse present with us every day. She is usually based at this First Aid location, but we can also bring her along to an incident if we want to get a higher level of care on the spot, as we are triaging the patient.
JF: Are both the nurse and the doctor based at this First Aid location?
Hylton Early: The nurse is based at the Silver Lake First Aid, so if you were to walk into this room, she’d likely be available to evaluate you. She’s also able to come up on the hill with some special drugs and a wider scope of practices that can help us in a traumatic situation. The doctor is more itinerant and tends to roam the mountain. We have instant access to his cell phone and can get him right away if his presence is needed anywhere on the hill.
JF: What an impressive cadre of highly qualified individuals! Now tell me, what are the typical qualifications of your Ski Patrol colleagues?
Hylton Early: Most of them are either “Outdoor Emergency Care” technician, which is a National Ski Patrol certification, similar to an EMT Basic. Many others are EMT Basic, that is, the first level of EMT. Then, we also have a few paramedics working with us, those are professional patrollers who work part-time. They generally are employed full-time with the Park City or the Salt Lake City Fire Departments and assist us one or two days a week.
JF: So tell me, how many ski patrollers are on any given day on the mountain at Deer Valley?
Hylton Early: We have between 28 and 32 of them on the slopes, every day. If we include the doctor and the nurse, this adds up to 34 medical professionals available to take care of our ski visitors on a daily basis!
In our next blog, we’ll get some important advice about making your ski vacation with us as safe as enjoyable as possible…
… But I love the Torchlight Parade at Deer Valley, most of all.
It’s a known fact: It is flat-out impossible to be in a bad mood at Deer Valley Resort’s annual Torchlight Parade. This pre-New Year tradition involves a veritable river of complimentary cocoa, Deer Valley’s signature cookies, and an overwhelmingly fun sense of community. Mascots! Seafood Buffet staff taking in the view from the dining room windows! Chefs slipping out of the heat of the kitchen in their short-sleeves! And, of course, guests enjoying the company of family, friends and strangers. (As always, there are no strangers at Deer Valley, just fellow skiers, and lovers of all things DV.) The Deer Valley Synchonized Ski Team is, for lack of a better word, electrifying.
Lesser-known fact: If your children are, on ordinary days, embarrassed by your public singing and dancing (And, really, in my case, who can blame them?), such tom-foolery is expected, if not encouraged, at the parade. So, cloaked in the magic of the festivities, I sang and danced with impunity. Then, the magic began—the Synchronized Ski Team, draped in LED lights, skied in formation down Big Stick to Wide West ski run. At one point, their giant S-turns created the illusion of skiing in circles.
I loved watching my kids enjoy the show in their own ways—Lance simply sitting and watching (I could tell he was excited to be there because he couldn’t actually sit on the patio chair. I started to scold him for having his feet on the seat, and then stopped myself. He kept sort of popping up to get a better view, then squatting back down.) Seth’s not-so-hidden talent (which comes out a lot at Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, actually), is an innate gift for hip hop dancing. (He does not get it from me; but he has two grandmothers who are terrific dancers, so it’s something of a recessive gene, perhaps.) He demonstrated this skill on the patio wall while singing along with the music, keeping his eyes glued on the parade.
As the synchro team created its magic, I got swept up in the beauty of it all. Honestly, with all the hype and excitement around me, I didn’t expect to find myself feeling contemplative—but I did. There was something about this night that felt like a gift. I saw before me all the magic of skiing in a new light—appreciating the beauty, the grace, the fun, and the hope that skiing brings along for the ride. Hope that the next run will be better than the last, that more snow will fall overnight, that we can continue to share this sport with the people we love. I’m not much of a resolution-maker, but I sure enjoyed pinning my hopes for a wonderful season on the performance we enjoyed at the parade. I’d love to see your “Skiing New Year Hopes” in the comments. Until then, Happy New Year!
Last week I caught up with Deer Valley Resorts’ Bike and Ski Patrol Manager, Steve Graff, as he was returning from inspecting the impressive network of hiking and mountain bike trails the resort will soon re-open to the public. Here are some of the many interesting things I learned about his busy department and their myriad of responsibilities…
JF: Steve, it’s good to be visiting with you and the patrollers again. Tell me, where’s all the snow? What has happened to you and your staff since the end of the skiing season and what are you up to now?
Steve Graff (SG): After we closed the mountain down in April, we spent another week taking down signs, ropes, pads and getting everything ready for snow melt. After taking a little bit of time off to transition between seasons, our staff is back to work. As you can imagine, our personnel shrinks a bit at this time of the year; most get back to their seasonal jobs. Many go to work as National Parks Rangers all over the country, while those who can never get enough winter continue ski patrolling in New Zealand and Australia. Some are wild land fire fighters or smoke-jumpers, and the rest of us are back at Deer Valley Resort getting the place ready for warm weather activities.
JF: How many employees return for Mountain Bike Patrol?
SG: Out of our 70 or so ski patrollers, about 15 stay on during the summer.
JF: How long is the season?
SG: It goes from mid-June through Labor Day (September 2, 2013).
JF: Are you the crew in charge of maintaining trails and cutting new ones?
SG: Our main priority is helping injured but the bulk of our work is actually trail construction and trail maintenance.
JF: Any new trail this year?
SG: The two newest trails were actually started last season. Both are in the Empire Canyon area, off the Ruby Express chairlift.
- Drift: An intermediate trail
- Payroll: More of a free riding, “flowy” trail, with some nice jumps and drops that should add some extra levels of excitement in that general area
JF: This sounds promising! By the way who comes up with these unique trail names?
SG: Payroll is actually a mine name and Drift comes from a drift road that is off Tour de Sud. Some others come directly from the public, “Devo” is a good example; we were just finishing constructing it when we ran into a lady that said “Yeah, that trail is ‘Devo.”
JF: Does your remaining staff receive summer-specific training?
SG: There’s a lot of cross-over between summer and winter duties like medical training and lift evacuation skills and those are regularly being refreshed. We add motorcycle, ATV and six-wheeler riding that are unique to our summer season.
JF: You mean, training on vehicles that get you around the mountain?
SG: Right; instead of snowmobiles, toboggans or skis, we use bikes, motorcycles and ATVs!
JF: What types of interventions are typical to the warmer months?
SG: Overall, the few injuries we deal with are less severe than in winter because speed is less of a factor. We see a quite a few scrapes and bruises though, maybe a few dislocations, perhaps more blood than usual, but in general, far less severe injuries.
JF: It seems to me that you and your staff aren’t always on the mountain; over the years, I’ve noticed your presence at all the Deer Valley’s summer concerts. What’s your role there?
SG: To attend the concert!
JF: I should have expected this! So, all Patrollers are music aficionados?
SG: Well, this is another one of our Mountain Bike Patrol duties. We offer first aid response at the Deer Valley concerts, so we attend them all. Depending on the event, between two and four of us are present. We’re there for medical emergencies or other situations.
JF: Are they specific recommendations you’d like to share with mountain bikers and hikers intent to use the Deer Valley Resort trail system?
SG: There are a few good rules; first, we don’t charge for uphill travel outside of chairlift rides. If trail users bike, they must wear a helmet and dogs must be left at home whether their owners hike or bike. Always make sure to look at the map and come up with a route before heading out; remember that there are some trails that are specifically for downhill mountain biking, others specifically for hiking and then they’re others that are designated for both. So, it’s good to know what kind of trail you’re planning to take. If you want to hike and don’t want to see bikers, go on a hiking-only trail. If you want to pedal up, make sure you chose the multi-use trail, not the downhill-only one. That way, everyone can enjoy their experience to the fullest.
JF: Are there lessons or orientations tours visitors can take?
SG: Yes; both are available and are highly recommended. We offer guided tours of the mountain that will also provide some mountain biking tips; those are for intermediate level and above, but they’re also “mountain bike 101” lessons that will take a rank beginner straight to the single-track trails. Many riders often say: “I know how to handle a bike, therefore I don’t need lessons” but as you know JF, mountain biking is a very different deal, it’s not like riding in the neighborhood; there’s weight transfer, forward-and-back and side-to-side involved, it’s a lot more dynamic experience than pedaling on asphalt around the block.
JF: What other recommendations would you give hikers or mountain bikers visiting Deer Valley Resort?
SG: I know some people who chose to ride their mountain bike by themselves, purely for exercise. If you’re one of them, just let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back. Always wear a helmet and sunglasses. Even if you’re going on a short trip, throw an extra power bar in your pack, a replacement tube, enough water, some basic tools if you ever break down. Even if you aren’t quite sure how to fix it, some passer-by might be able to assist you and get you back on your way. Always wear gloves; if you ever fall, the first thing that’s going to hit the ground is your hand. Some extra protection goes a long way!
JF: Any tips about the weather?
SG: Always be prepared for anything! In the mountains, the weather can change rapidly. Look for thunderstorms. If you can hear thunder, lightning isn’t far, so get off the high ground, don’t huddle under the tallest tree, just wait for the storm to pass; it generally never lasts very long.
JF: What about encounters with wildlife?
SG: We do see quite a bit of wildlife. This is one of the great things about hiking and mountain biking around Deer Valley. I’ve had the pleasure to see all kinds of animals around this mountain. You just got to give them space. We’ve taken a lot of space away from them and we should always treat the mountain as their own domain. If I see a moose on the trail, I make my presence known, and hopefully he’ll amble on.
JF: So, how ready are you for Deer Valley Resort summer opening?
SG: Well, we’re opening on June 14, and based on my most recent trail inspections, we’re going to have a fantastic opening, with ninety percent of the trails perfectly passable, so please, come and join us!
Somewhere up in the snow, along a ridgeline outside of Park City, a group of skiers move through the blue on white Wasatch landscape. The squeaky crunch of a chalky snowpack and heavy breathing are interrupted by quick conversation and casual observations. A day trip to some lower angle snowfields has yielded good turns and spirits are high. Apparent stability has everyone eyeing steeper terrain. One by one they ascend a minor looking slope, each focused on the turns waiting above. The first sign of trouble is word passed down the track that something slid around the turn. Everyone moves quickly to see what happened. The seemingly small slope they were headed too broke away with the first skier; a large debris field lies below them.
At Deer Valley, in the Bald Eagle Patrol shack, a German Short Haired Pointer/Lab named Ninja is enjoying a sun-warmed spot on a Naugahyde bench.
With a half raised head he sees his friend and teacher Sue listening to her radio as she grabs her pack. A skier is missing in the backcountry; a frantic phone call from the scene reports beacon searches unsuccessful. The urgency of her movements flips a switch in Ninja and he is immediately at the door. Sometimes it’s a chairlift or snowmobile to shuttle them to a scene. Today they hurry to a landing zone as a chopper beats out a steady cadence, coming in low and fast. In seconds Sue and Ninja are airborne and banking hard out beyond the ski areas boundary.
Once on scene the rescuers begin collecting and assessing information while Ninja surveys the half-acre field of avalanche debris. Without ever having met the person he knows they are out there somewhere. He wouldn’t be there if they weren’t. While the people around him are visually inspecting the area Ninja has his nose in the air, sorting and remembering various smells. The young dog jerks with anticipation as Sue kneels close, one hand on his back. “O.K. Ninja,” Sue whispers, his body trembling uncontrollably with anticipation, “SEARCH!”
Ninja was nearly two months old when Sue had come to see his litter. She had already been to see over forty puppies at that point, trusting standard tests and her own intuition to pass on all of them. Now, with Ninja and three of his siblings sitting in the half lean puppies tend to have, Sue started the tests again. The first was simple. Pots and pans banged together caused the puppy to Ninja’s right to jump back startled and wary. She knew he would not work. Avalanche dogs are often around loud and sudden noises and can’t be easily distracted or frightened. One by one she rolled the remaining pups on their backs. Ninja and his sister worked against her hand with moderate effort, unsure that total dominance suited them. The third lay frozen in complete submission. While a good avi dog must listen and perform it must also be able to push back on the handler when it senses it is being led away from it’s proper training. Removing the passive puppy she inspected the remaining two. Standing up and walking away Sue looked back to see if either dog had followed. The sister remained seated while Ninja was happily trotting behind her, only stopping when reached her feet. Sues search seemed to be over. After administering a few more tests such as squeezing between his toes to establish pain tolerance (he did not care at all, good for a dog that will work outside a lot), holding him in the air (think future chairlift rides, and he was indifferent), and playing tug (never had and loved it!) Sue was confident that she had found Deer Valley’s newest trainee.
There was a final and substantial hurdle for Ninja to overcome. Lila, a full Lab, was the most senior and experienced avalanche dog, with thirteen years on the Deer Valley Ski Patrol. She was known to be particular about her coworkers. With a few sniffs and a lick Ninja was deemed worthy to begin training. Training that would take more than a year and lead to the focused and determined dog that was now searching the snow for the missing skier. An animal with a nose thousands of time more sensitive than ours and indomitable spirit that will not let him quit.
At the scene of the avalanche time is on every single persons mind, raising even the most experienced professionals level of anxiety. Except Ninja. With no concept of the “golden hour” the young avalanche dog moved rapidly back and forth across the debris, ducking and weaving as every scent except the one he was looking for swirled around him. After several passes with no success his training kicked in and he stopped, turn to Sue, and sat. “Ninja, search!” she says with a flick of her arm. Assured that he is doing right he immediately resumes a pattern reminiscent of a bumblebee, his nose leading him. Within seconds Ninjas demeanor changes from “searching” to “found” and he starts frantically digging through snow that is setting up like concrete. Rescuers move in with probes and shovels, quickly finding a ski boot attached to the missing skier, nearly thirty inches under the surface. Resuscitation efforts begin and the skier is loaded into an air ambulance for the flight to the hospital, only time and circumstances to decide recovery. To the side Ninja is receiving his reward for doing his job – an exuberant game of tug with Sue, punctuated by loud praise and hearty body hugs.
The story is fiction, but the dog, the trainer, and the jobs they do are very real. Deer Valley ski area and its employees put great effort into being ready for a call to action like the one described. Here are some thoughts on how to approach and treat a working dog like Ninja.
- Always ask the handler before approaching the dog. When not busy they can often let the animals under their care meet new friends.
- Keep in mind they may be on their way to help someone or training. Now might not be the best moment for introductions.
- These animals are highly trained athletes and their diets are tailored for their work. Treats may harm the animal or impact its ability to perform when needed.
- Your ski edges will cut their paws and it can happen before you know it. If an Avi dog runs up to you try not to move around unless you are sure their legs and paws are clear of your skis. A good sniff and they usually bounce away.
- Give them nothing to do but train and lay in sunny warm spots. Be prepared when entering the backcountry, even within sight of the ski areas. Chose your days and your lines with care.
Day after day, the whole day through —
Wherever my road inclined —
Four-feet said, “I am coming with you!”
And trotted along behind.
– Excerpt from Rudyard Kipling’s “Four Feet”
Thousands of ski fans flocked to Deer Valley Resort at the start of this month for the 2012 FIS World Cup. From Thursday, Feb. 2, through Saturday, Feb. 4, top skiers from around the world –including stars Hannah Kearney, Heather McPhie, Mikael Kingsbury and Dylan Ferguson – competed in freestyle moguls and aerials events. They launched themselves off bumps and jumps in a display of speed, agility, athleticism and daring that left virtually every viewer – from patrollers standing course-side to fans watching on TV at home – slack-jawed in amazement.
The World Cup represents a showcase for the resort’s Race Department, which along with the Snow Grooming, Snow Making, and Lift Operations departments, spent the week before the event constructing the courses and spectator areas. The crew was assisted by a legion of local volunteers who shaped each mogul and jump by hand. The result was stunning. In a few short days, they transformed the Champion and White Owl trails into challenging elite runs.
Champion, site of the 2002 Olympic freestyle mogul’s event and White Owl, home of the 2002 Olympic freestyle aerials proved a great venue once again. Both are located on Bald Eagle Mountain.
(Patrol manager Steve Graff, right, reviews the plan for World Cup before the start of the first session Thursday evening, as patroller Mark Chytka looks on.)
Patrol assisted with setup, hanging rope lines and baffle-fences along the sides of the course. Then, when warm-ups started Wednesday, and competition commenced Thursday, a team of patrollers took to the race hill to provide first aid for the athletes, coaches, and spectators, if needed.
Seventeen patrollers worked the event: 10 on-course, five in the spectator area, and two supervisors – one in the Bald Eagle patrol shack, the other roaming where needed.
“It’s a nice change of pace,” patroller Kate Atha said. “You’re not doing openers or 10-50s [radio-code for a skier wreck]. It’s a midseason refresher.”
Still, the World Cup days are long and cold. Patrollers working course-side typically stand outside for more than three hours at a time before rotating back to the patrol shack to warm up, eat, and rest. Once it was all over Saturday night, patrollers stayed past midnight, helping the race department, snow groomers, volunteers and others dismantle the course.
“It’s a good lesson in how to dress warm,” Atha said. “You’re not always moving, it’s not always sunny on Champion – or you’re working at night. So you’re wearing eight layers and mittens and heat packs, and you’re constantly eating.” Night events ran from about 7 or 8 p.m., depending on the day, to about 9:15 p.m., and temperatures dipped to 3 degrees Fahrenheit.
(Maitland Wiren and Kate Atha relax at the end of a long day Friday.)
The reward? The best seat in the house.
(The aerials course, lit-up for the finals Friday night.)
“You get to be right in the thick of the action,” patroller Hylton Early said. “When you’re right there working course-side and you see the athletes warming up and talking to their coaches, you get a much better understanding of the commitment and time the athletes put into it. You also get a much better sense of the size of the moguls, the speed the guys are going, how high they go off the jumps.”
The 10 patrollers who worked course-side were divided into pairs, which rotated roughly every 45 minutes through various stations on the courses. On Champion, the stations were located at the start gate, the first kicker, the second kicker, the finish, and the Bald Eagle patrol shack. On White Owl, patrollers stood watch at the jumps and below the landing area.
In addition to dealing with the cold, the work presented different challenges from a regular ski day, particularly on Champion: the runs proved especially slick, the moguls were enormous, and thousands of spectators were watching – not to mention the TV cameras.
“You got to be 100-percent solid with running sleds in bumps,” Atha said. “The course is hard enough for athletes to ski it. We’re responding to wrecks and skiing with sleds in those same bumps.”
(Patroller TJ Somers and Mark Chytka stand at the bottom of Champion during warmups on Wednesday.)
The three days of World Cup – four, if you include Wednesday’s practice session – provided an additional bonding experience for the patrollers working the event.
“You’re all putting in the sacrifice of the long hours and cold temperatures,” Early said. “It’s almost like pledging.”
Asked whether they plan to sign-up for World Cup next year, Early and Atha were unequivocal. “100 percent,” they said.
(The moguls and aerials courses Saturday night, as seen from overhead.)
The moguls and aerials events were broadcast on NBC on Saturday, Feb. 11. The dual moguls portion of the event were broadcast Saturday, Feb. 18, at 2:30 p.m. EST on NBC. For the results, as published on the official FIS website, click here.
Deer Valley patrollers all look the same. That’s what we hear, anyway. We understand. With our chiseled, All-American looks, not to mention our identical red-and-black uniforms, it can be hard to distinguish one patroller from the other, or tell how many of us there are on the mountain.
It’s the question I’ve received most often: “How many of you are working today?” Followed by: “What the heck do you guys do all day?”
Here are the numbers:
Roughly 40 full-time patrollers at Deer Valley
17 of them are rookies
20-30 others are part-time or on-call
25-30 patrollers are on-duty on any given day
3-7 patrollers are assigned to each of the resort’s six patrol shacks
Together, patrol represents a varied lot, ranging from former tree-trimmers who hail from Minnesota, to former real estate developers who lived in Florida, to paramedics, firefighters, physicians’ assistants, and journalists-on-hiatus (ahem).
We’ve proven, however, a truly cohesive unit, one united by the drive to maintain Deer Valley Ski Patrol’s reputation as one of the elite patrols in North America. More on that in a future post.
Our day starts with morning meeting at 8 a.m. Picture roll call from any police procedural, and you get the idea – albeit without the Formica desks or crusty sergeants.
For about half-an-hour, we review major events from the previous day, the ski-trail grooming plan, any projects that need attention (such as opening or closing trails), and the weather forecast. If there’s time, we do a practice assessment: one patroller plays a patient, the other the first-responder – think of it as early-morning amateur theater, replete with a peanut gallery. Then we head to our assigned mountains for opening runs.
Each patroller is tasked with skiing several particular trails during openers. The main purpose is to ensure each run is safe to open to the public, a task which includes surveying the snow conditions, making sure bamboo and rope lines are firmly planted in the snow, and checking that pads are still in place on lift towers, trail signs, snow guns, and other obstacles. Opening runs are also when we plant our slow signs.
The rest of the day then proceeds much you might expect: responding to skier-wrecks, installing or removing bamboo and rope lines, performing speed control, training, and otherwise skiing around. The end of the day approaches at 3 p.m., when Empire Patrol begins its sweeps, closing that portion of the mountain and funneling skiers back toward the Silver Lake and Snow Park lodges.
Sweeps are staggered across each mountain. And in addition to ensuring that no guests are left on any runs, we also prepare the trails for Deer Valley’s overnight workers: the snowmakers and snowcat operators. We remove the slow signs we installed that morning and pull back rope lines to allow the snowcats to groom the trails. If all goes according to plan, we’re off the slopes by 5:15 p.m., just as the cats are rumbling from their garage off Ontario run.
The day flies by. With six mountain peaks as our office, how could it not? Next up: more on responding to skier wrecks, the divide between “wreck” and “project” patrollers, and The Wheel of Misfortune.
Any questions? Shoot an email to email@example.com.
It’s January in Park City!
Sun! Snow! Tourists!
It’s my first year on Deer Valley Ski Patrol, and I’m here to see it all. Eight weeks ago, I resigned my full-time job as an editor with Patch Media in New Jersey, and accepted a position with patrol – a job I’ve wanted to do since my first trip to the slopes as a 6-year-old. It meant leaving family and friends more than 2,000 miles behind, and moving to a town where I didn’t know a single soul. What’s more, by pure coincidence (I think, anyway), this season has so far proven one of Utah’s driest on record, with December experiencing its lowest level of snowfall in recorded history.
This rookie season on patrol, however, could hardly be better. Heck, I’m beaming even as I write this blog post. Joining DVSP marked one of the biggest transitions of my life. But from the DVSP team, to the resort’s leadership, to the guests, these past eight weeks have proven some of the most fun and fulfilling I’ve ever experienced.
This blog will record the life of a rookie patroller with DVSP. Previously, it was penned by Matt DeWaard, a long-time patroller, former hill captain, and great photographer who left a big pair of ski boots to fill. Over the course of the next four months, I’ll bring you photos, videos, and insight into the day-to-day life of a first-year patroller. Send thoughts, questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also learn a little about my own background by visiting www.alanneuhauser.com.
Below, here are photos of patrol from early in the season. Far, far more to come soon!
Ninja, is an 11-week-old German short hair pointer, lab mix, born June 4, 2011 in Utah. Deer Valley Snow Safety Supervisor Sue Anderson is Ninja’s owner and handler.
When Ninja isn’t hiking the trails at Deer Valley or riding chairlifts he loves walks, chewing on shoelaces and squeaky toys. Ninja has already learned his name, the commands sit and come and loves tug-o-war. Tugging is an important part of his training; Sue will use his love of the game to teach him to dig for buried skiers.
Deer Valley’s other avalanche dogs have the task of mentoring Ninja and showing him it’s ok to be around horses, noisy machinery, bikes and skis and guests. Quick to fit in, Ninja followed Lila, Izzy and Piper through a 60 foot culvert pipe with no fear earlier in the week and also kept pace with the big dogs while swimming and hiking in the nearby Uinta Mountains.
Sue’s biggest training goal this summer is to socialize Ninja and ensure he isn’t afraid of anything he may encounter on the mountain. He’s quickly mastering everything Sue throws his way and has taken a liking to Lila.
This winter Ninja will start learning to only follow commands from Sue and his second handler; a necessary skill to ensure when skiers or bikers call to him while on the mountain they do not distract him from his task or risk him getting hurt.
Watch for more updates this winter of Ninja in training. If you see him on the mountain make sure to ask permission from a trainer before petting or playing with him.