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

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

The Trail Smoke Eaters fell 6-1 to the Penticton Vees on Sunday, their third loss to the perennial BCHL powerhouse six games into the 20-game season. Photo: Stephen Piccolo
Penticton Vees dominant in win over Trail Smoke Eaters

Trail Smoke Eaters enjoy two day break until their fourth meeting with Penticton Vees on Wednesday

Kalesnikoff Lumber will be providing materials for a 21-storey apartment building in Vancouver. Rendering: Henriquez Partners Architects
Kalesnikoff supplying mass timber for several major projects

The West Kootenay lumber company will be making the products at South Slocan facility

This painting is a piece from Young Visions 2021, opening April 22 at the Kootenay Gallery. Photo: S. Painter
Showcase of artwork by Kootenay Columbia students opens April 22

Young Visions 2021 runs April 22 to May 29 in the Kootenay Gallery of Art, Castlegar

Selkirk College has received provincial funding to assist students. File photo
Selkirk College receives funding to assist students

Provincial funding is available to West Kootenay students

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Part of the massive mess left behind in a Spallumcheen rental home owned by Wes Burden, whose tenants bolted from the property in the middle of the night. Burden is now facing a hefty cleaning and repair bill as a result. (Photo submitted)
Tenants disappear in the night leaving Okanagan home trashed with junk, feces

Spallumcheen rental rooms filled with junk, human and animal feces; landlord scared to rent again

Parliament Hill is viewed below a Canada flag in Gatineau, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians are feeling more grateful for what they have in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2019: report

2019 report shows Canada emitted about one million tonnes more of these gases than the previous year

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient 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 register people ages 40+ for COVID-19 vaccines in April

Appointments are currently being booked for people ages 66 and up

Interior Health improves access to mental health supports amid COVID-19 pandemic. (Stock)
Interior Health connects people to mental health resources amid COVID

310-MHSU line receives positive feedback in early months of rollout

A volunteer disinfects a historical Mohabat Khan mosque ahead of the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, April 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)
For Canadian Muslims, second pandemic Ramadan is a time of hope and sadness

Many members of the association are trying to find ways ‘to help people stay connected to one another’

Most Read