Steamboat Resort welcomes two avalanche dogs
Visitors to Steamboat Resort will now see Daisy and Mudd among the snow. No, they aren’t signs of spring, but the names of avalanche dogs tasked with keeping skiers and snowboarders safe.
Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. announced the dogs’ arrival on Thursday, Jan. 26, after a long process of getting the program approved and in place.
Avalanches are rare within the resort boundary, but with the 650-plus acres of extreme terrain opening on the north side of the resort in the 2023-24 season as part of the Full Steam Ahead capital improvements project, there will be far more avalanche-susceptible terrain.
“(The dogs deal with) both inbounds and out-of-bounds avalanche risk. With opening Fish Creek, we definitely have a lot more avalanche terrain in our boundary,” said Sally House, the avalanche dog program coordinator. “And dogs are really great for that because they can search a huge area, (relatively quickly).”
Daisy, a 1 ½-year-old female black lab, and Mudd, an 11-week-old female Belgian Malinois-shepherd mix, have started training and can be spotted around the mountain. They’ll be spending their time learning how to board lifts, ride equipment, get around the mountain and, of course, dig people out of the snow.
Chad Feagler, the technical rescue team leader on ski patrol, got Daisy as a family dog for him, his wife and twin boys. Only recently has he started training her as an avalanche dog, but he said her temperament has been perfect for it.
“She’s adapting really well, I think. She’s got a pretty good connection with me, so she always wants to know where I am, but I think she’s adapting well with other people,” Feagler said. “She’s ridden lifts, been evacuated from a lift, the gondola, snowmobile rides, toboggan rides. She skis with me a little bit. She’s doing really well.”
If Daisy and Mudd are on leash hanging around the base area or near the top or bottom of a lift on the mountain, feel free to ask their handlers to say hello.
Please avoid getting near the dogs with sharp ski and snowboard edges, though.
The dogs and handlers won’t be around crowds when training, but if you do see them doing a task, please ignore the dogs.
“Just check in with the handler and see what is OK to do,” said Sally House, the avalanche dog program coordinator.
Nate Birdseye, an avalanche team leader for ski patrol, got Mudd a few weeks ago for the sole purpose of having her be an avalanche dog. She’s a wiggly little squirt who gets a little distracted, but she’s highly trainable and loves to listen to her handler.
“The first couple days were a little overwhelming. She was nine weeks old, so she mostly slept,” said Birdseye, who has a passion for training dogs. “She’s still getting used to being in the duty station but definitely getting better with dealing with the resort.”
Training basically looks like a big game of hide and seek in which someone is put into a cave that is then covered with snow.
“From the outside, it doesn’t look like there is anything there, but she’ll smell the scent coming through the snow and she’ll find the person in there,” House said.
The dogs and handlers will be worked up to more realistic scenarios until one is built to resemble an avalanche, after which, the dog will be certified to work at Steamboat Resort. That could happen next winter for Daisy, but will likely take 18 to 24 months for Mudd.
Both dogs get along well, and Birdseye said Daisy has already become a mentor to Mudd, even though the training is new to both of them.
House said Steamboat’s program will partner with Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment and Classic Air, which will allow the dogs to be brought to area avalanches and serve as a resource for all of Northwest Colorado. In order to do that, the dogs have additional training criteria to meet before they can serve the backcountry community as the northernmost dog team in Colorado.
Another future plan is to get House her own dog, probably after these two dogs are fully certified and ready to work in the field.
Both dogs have a job, just like human ski patrollers and first responders, and will certainly be put in scary situations, but neither handler said they are concerned about that.
“The biggest thing for her (Daisy) is this is just a game,” Feagler said. “She has no idea what’s happening. Her whole job is to find who is underneath the snow and get praise for it.”
Shelby Reardon is the assistant editor at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach her, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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