Park City Mountain Resort Avalanche Rescue Dog Team Receives International Training


Park City Mountain Resort’s Andy VanHouten and two and a half year old yellow Labrador Retriever Zeke recently returned to Park City after traveling to Switzerland for an intensive search and rescue training program.

“Traveling to Switzerland, was an amazing experience and opportunity for Zeke and I”, said Park City Mountain Resort patroller Andy VanHouten. “We have been able to bring back a wealth of knowledge to share with the other dog teams both here at Park City Mountain Resort as well as other teams across the Wasatch.”

While in Switzerland, Andy and Zeke completed seven days of training with some of the elite search and rescue dog teams from around Europe. Andy and Zeke performed a number of drills and rescue scenarios. The team excelled at their training and showed what a great asset they are to Park City Mountain Resort. The program focused on several different components of search and rescue, including new beacon techniques, probe lines, and advanced shovel techniques for extremely deep burials. Both handler and dog were flown into test sights to practice working with the distraction of helicopters over head to simulate a real life experience.

The avalanche rescue dog program at Park City Mountain Resort is an integral component of the emergency search and rescue plan both at the Resort and throughout the Wasatch Range. The team works closely with Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, a non-profit agency, and area sheriffs departments. The Resort’s five dog teams train and test regularly to be ready for immediate deployment in the event of an avalanche anywhere in Northern Utah.

Most of Park City Mountain Resort’s avalanche dogs start their career on the mountain at 7-10 weeks of age and will spend two years in training before they can be certified for search work. By the time they are certified, they will have found dozens of buried volunteers in simulated drills. Patrollers interested in the search and rescue program will volunteer to act as “victims” and be buried in snow caves 2-6 feet deep for dogs to sniff out. A standard dog test will incorporate two such burials in an area the size of two football fields, as well as buried sweaters, backpacks and other items. The snow surface will be completely disguised and no surface clues will be visible. A successful dog team will locate and dig up both “victims” within 20 minutes.

Andy and Zeke’s Swiss training follows previous rescue dog teams’ special training across the globe at locations including Stephen’s Pass in Washington and Fernie, British Columbia. At Park City Mountain Resort, a certified avalanche rescue dog is on duty every day of resort operations. They may be spread about at any of the Patrol locations, but you will likely see them riding chairlifts, snowmobiles or skiing with their patrol handlers.