Meet Ava, Snowbowl’s First Avalanche Rescue Puppy!

By guest blogger, Hailey Hagerty

Working as a ski patroller over the last few seasons, I have been humbled by the unpredictability and power of avalanches. As humans, we are driven to test our limits by skiing and snowboarding the steepest slopes, the deepest powder and the tallest cliffs. One must always be careful travelling in avalanche terrain, even with the essential tools (beacon, shovel, probe) and a proper working knowledge of how to use them. In the event that there is an avalanche burial and a beacon is not working or was not worn, an avalanche dog may be a victim’s only hope for survival. Enter Ava, Snowbowl’s first avalanche rescue dog.

Avy dogs and their handlers train as a team.

Ava is an English cream golden retriever born from a litter of eight in Salt Lake City. I knew Ava was going to be Snowbowl’s first avalanche puppy when I saw her excelling at aptitude tests at just seven weeks old. When Ava turned eight weeks old, she had her first day on patrol. As I put her vest on, I could tell she was proud. Ava knew she had a job to do.

Ava’s first day working as an avy dog, back in January.

Ava and I spend about five to six days a week training at Snowbowl. A typical day for her begins with a short nap while we ride up the Agassiz lift. In the morning we usually go out to our training sites and play a series of short games like “run-away” (similar to “hide and seek”) out in the snow caves. The most exciting thing in the world for her is to be rewarded with a game of “tug-of-war”!  

Look at that focus!

After Ava finishes her first training session, it’s time for another nap. By mid-day, Ava and I will take some easy runs together, where she practices running between my skis. Then it’s time for another nap. In the afternoon we head back out to the training caves to do some more drills, slowly increasing their difficulty. After a long day of training, Ava and I help sweep the mountain, and she gets some free time to run around and be a puppy.

At 13 weeks old, Ava and I travelled up to Grand Targhee Resort in Wyoming for an avalanche rescue school for avy dogs and their handlers through the American Avalanche Institute. Ava was by far the youngest pup in school, but she quickly caught up to her 15 peers. Ava and I were able to learn from incredible dog handler teams and watch the dogs search the snow surface for human scent. We were both humbled by the experience and are enthusiastic for the work ahead of us!

By her last day of puppy school, Ava didn’t want to leave the snow caves!

As for the rest of the season, Ava and I will be will be on the mountain nearly every day working on her training and obedience. If you are out skiing you may be lucky enough to spot her, but please remember she is working, so always ask if you can pet her before doing so. The training of an avy dog requires countless hours of training, and Ava and I would not be where we are now without the loving support from Snowbowl, the ski patrol team, my friends and family!

Stay posted for Ava updates! We’ll see you on the mountain!

She loves to take in the beautiful views of the Grand Canyon.