Avalanche rescue dogs pass the test 

Eight-month-old Kelsy stared down the obstacle course near the Whistler Mountain half pipe, head cocked to the side, eyes trained ahead.

She was the youngest dog on the beginner course ahead and holding her own nicely during the week-long Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association training.

She may have been tired now, just like the 19 other dogs that had been put to the CARDA tests, but when her handler Shelly Jackson urged her on with a "C’mon Kelsy, let’s go," the Golden Labrador from Golden, B.C. was all wagging tail and excited barks.

Weaving from left to right in search of a buried person in a nearby snow cave, Kelsy quickly found the scent and, paws to the ground, she began furiously digging. The target was uncovered within a matter of seconds and a playful tug-of-war ensued.

"It’s called ragging," said CARDA Instructor Scott Hicks, watching as Kelsy yanked back and forth on the toy with the person in the snow cave.

"That’s their reward at the end of the search."

There were 20 dog teams on Whistler Mountain during the 18 th annual CARDA training week, which ran in conjunction with last week’s Big Mountain Experience.

Thirteen teams were from B.C., three from Alberta and four from the United States.

For most of the handlers the training week and the CARDA certification that follows combines two life passions.

"I just love dogs and skiing," said Hicks.

"That’s pretty well the norm for all these handlers."

The five pups in the beginner course were screened in May to test their natural drive and pursuit responses. Their handlers also met a series of prerequisites for the program that included being actively involved in a winter mountain rescue group, having First Aid, CPR and a minimum Canadian Avalanche Association Level 1.

But the pups weren’t the only ones at work on Whistler last week; there were also seasoned avalanche dogs on hand to show the pups what it’s all about.

As the five pups were taken through a series of drills near the half pipe, up above an experienced dog team was hanging 75 metres from a helicopter.

They were dropped at the top of a slope where a mock avalanche rescue was being staged.

The five-member Hasty Search team, the initial response team, had already done a search of the avalanche scene and found five bodies buried under the snow with transceivers.

But there were still bodies buried without any rescue beacons to direct patrol.

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