Drift showing returning with his find at White Pass. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Drift showing returning with his find at White Pass. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Meet the team: Fernie’s avalanche rescue dogs

There are five avalance rescue dogs at Fernie Alpine Resort

The Fernie Alpine Resort is home to five resident avalanche rescue dogs: Three that are fully certified and another two that are in training. Last week, The Free Press got to meet three of them.

Tabor, a black lab, is six years old and has been working on the hill for the last five seasons. He’s been involved in dozens of site-clearing jobs over the years, where ski patrollers inspect avalanche fields just in case there were any people in the area, but he spends most of the time hanging out with his owner and handler doing training exercises, playing – and above all, waiting and ready for anything to happen that requires a rescue dog on the scene.

“He loves it – it’s a game of tug,” said Sean Caira, Tabor’s owner and handler.

“All these dogs love to play, they love a job, they love routine, they love to be put to work.”

It’s a lot of work to become an avalanche rescue dog – nearly two year’s worth, to be precise. First there’s a Spring assessment to find out if a young dog has the ‘right stuff’ to be a rescue dog, then there’s a winter assessment, followed by a year’s worth of training and exercises, and finally another assessment before they can receive their Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) certification.

For Sean, having an avalanche rescue dog had long been a goal of his since he’d become a ski patroller over 15 years ago. Tabor is his first avalanche rescue dog, and while he’s a rescue dog through-and-through, he’s still a dog.

“Tabor – he loves people, he’d be foaming at the mouth to come over and say hi, so I need to give him that outlet,” said Sean.

For his own day, Sean said coming to work with his best friend was the best part of the job – along with often being the first to ski on some of Fernie’s famous powder snow through the season.

For Tabor, fresh tracks or no, he seems to enjoy every day, having taught himself how to throw his own ball.

Tabor has taught himself how to throw his own ball. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Tabor has taught himself how to throw his own ball. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

“There’s no bad days at the office for this guy.”’

Tabor has taught himself how to throw his own ball - of course he can also catch it. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Tabor has taught himself how to throw his own ball - of course he can also catch it. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Rescue dog-in training, Sadie (17 months) is another of FAR’s five dogs on the hill.

Another black lab – which are noted to be ideal for avalanche rescue due to their cold tolerance, coat, good temperament and natural retrieving instinct – Sadie passed her Spring assessment, and only just this January passed her Winter assessment and is well on the way to being an avalanche rescue dog.

For her owner and handler, Steve Morrison, while Sadie’s proven she has what it takes to be a rescue dog so far – with a keen nose and the energy to bound around in the snow seemingly for hours – there was still a way to go, but she was doing great.

“She’s a few months in. Tail end of this season, and then all summer and fall we can do dryland stuff – and work on her obedience a little more,” said Steve as he played tug with Sadie.

Fernie ski patroller Steve Morrison with his avalanche rescue dog in training, Sadie. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Fernie ski patroller Steve Morrison with his avalanche rescue dog in training, Sadie. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Sadie’s welcome contribution through the interview consisted of trying to pull Steve off his feet, and fetching her toy which Steve dutifully threw into a snowbank dozens of times to showcase her budding rescue talents.

Avalanche rescue dogs are trained to pick up on human scents in the snow, so they often train by searching for items of clothing placed by handlers. If they find a scent cone on the hillside they can be on top of it’s source in barely any time at all.

Sadie is Steve’s third avalanche rescue dog, and going by Sadie’s energy, he has his work cut out for him. It’s Steve’s 26th season working with FAR as a ski patroller, and when asked what the best part of his job is, he simply gestured as the ball of energy tugging at the toy he was holding.

“It’s fun bringing your dog up on a powder day, doing some dog tracks!”

Drift (two) who is a purebred border collie is FAR’s newest CARDA-certified avalanche rescue dog, having passed his final winter assessment in January.

Since then, he’s been a regular on the hill, and according to his owner and handler, Paul Vanderpyl, “he’s a crowd favourite, because he’s so friendly.”

Paul explained that he and Drift spent most of their days up the top of the mountain ready to deploy when needed, so you might have seen them out playing at the top of White Pass.

It’s not all games – at least to the handler. Avalanche rescue dogs need to be obedient and very well trained, with Paul showcasing a few of Drift’s latest tricks.

Fernie ski patroller Paul Vanderpyl, with his two-year-old avalanche rescue dog, Drift. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Fernie ski patroller Paul Vanderpyl, with his two-year-old avalanche rescue dog, Drift. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

For Paul, being able to take his dog skiing on a daily basis had been a major motivator for most of his eight-year career as a ski patroller.

“I had that goal pretty much since I started working here. It took me a while, and now I have an awesome dog and I get to bring him to work. It makes the day go by fast – I get to come out here a lot and play with him.

Drift is his first avalanche rescue dog, and he’s been proving himself as a welcome member of the FAR team for the last two years. It’s a challenge, but it’s worth it, said Paul.

“Border collies can be challenging, but I feel like I have a great dog. He’s super focused. Loves working, loves coming to work with me. I pull out his vest in the morning and he’s all excited and ready to go to work.”



scott.tibballs@thefreepress.ca
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

AvalancheOutdoors and RecreationSkiing and Snowboarding

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Drift is laser-focused on his handler. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Drift is laser-focused on his handler. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Sadie is an avalanche rescue dog in training. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Sadie is an avalanche rescue dog in training. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Sadie has a lot of energy to burn up each day. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Sadie has a lot of energy to burn up each day. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Fernie ski patroller Sean Caira with his six-year-old avalanche rescue dog, Tabor. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Fernie ski patroller Sean Caira with his six-year-old avalanche rescue dog, Tabor. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Just Posted

Tala MacDonald, a 17-year-old student at Mount Sentinel Secondary who is also a volunteer firefighter, has won the $100,000 Loran Scholarship. Photo: Submitted
West Kootenay student wins $100K scholarship

Tala MacDonald is one of 30 Canadians to receive the Loran Scholarship

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Kristian Camero and Jessica Wood, seen here, co-own The Black Cauldron with Stephen Barton. The new Nelson restaurant opened earlier this month while indoor dining is restricted by the province. Photo: Tyler Harper
A restaurant opens in Nelson, and no one is allowed inside

The Black Cauldron opened while indoor dining is restricted in B.C.

These two city-owned houses on Railway Avenue in the Railtown district will be sold. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
City of Nelson will sell two derelict houses in Railtown

Purchasers will be responsible for demolition and slope stability issues

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Most Read