SUNDANCE, Utah (ABC4) — With Utah’s first snowfall this week, one puppy is in training as the newest member of the Sundance Resort Ski and Avalanche Patrol Team for the upcoming season.
The new black lab puppy, named Ida, is just over three months old and was introduced to the Sundance community on social media last month with a heartwarming video of her riding the chairlift over the mountain for the very first time (see below).
While the video portrays the tiny puppy seeing the mountain resort for the first time, one day she will be able to track down and rescue people on that very terrain.
“Avalanche dogs are trained literally from the time they are born to rescue someone on a mountain,” Sundance Public Relations Specialist Annie Condon said.
Condon said Ida is the third member of the pack, with Jagger a 9-year-old black lab and Finn a 2-year-old yellow lab coming before her. In addition to integrating her into the pack, the older dogs are helping her in her training.
Ida’s current training consists of becoming familiar with the terrain and swimming to help her navigate the elements in prepareation for the snow.
“These dogs, all they know is the mountain,” Condon said. “That is their natural environment.”
Ida joins a long legacy of Sundance avalanche dogs who have served before her. Sundance’s avalanche dog program began around 50 years ago in the 1970s. Condon says it is one of the oldest avalanche dog programs in the state.
Last year, she was a part of one of the avalanche dog training sessions where they buried her under about 10 feet of snow while holding a dog toy. Condon said it only took minutes before Jagger was sprinting down the mountain and digging her out.
“I don’t think it was until that moment that I really appreciated what a powerful asset these dogs are to a ski resort,” she said. “Because knowing that he could find me so quickly had I been caught in an avalanche or something, that just brought me a lot of peace of mind.”
These dogs are air-scenting dogs, Condon said, meaning they use their noses to assess their surroundings, much like humans use their ears. They are trained to detect human scent quickly, making them an incredibly useful part of the Ski and Avalanche Patrol team.
If this year brings even half of the record-breaking snow the resort received last year, the dogs will need to keep their noses ready. Last season the resort passed the existing record of 393 inches of snow with a shocking 520 inches. Condon said the record wasn’t just broken “but shattered.”
While Ida and her trainers have a lot of work to do before the snow really makes an appearance in Utah, Condon says there is something skiers and snowboarders should do as well.
“I think other skiers and snowboarders should take some time to learn about these dogs [and] what they’re capable of,” she said. “And appreciate the fact that they’re helping us all stay safe.”