Coming to save you this winter: Trained dogs go after avalanche victims
By Siobhan McAndrew, Reno Gazette-Journal
For the last two years, Shooter Slusser has learned the ins and outs of Alpine Meadows ski resort. He knows the faces of the skiers and which ski lifts go to green trails and which go to double black diamonds.
As a valued member of the ski patrol, he received his avalanche certification in Utah and maintains his skills by training at least once a week in search and rescue techniques. And instead of a paycheck, Shooter is content with being paid in dog food. Shooter, a golden retriever, is one of eight avalanche rescue dogs used at Alpine. Local ski resorts including Squaw Valley, Kirkwood Ski Resort and Mammoth Mountain have had avalanche dog programs for more than 20 years.
“Dogs are just one part of what we have in case of an emergency,” said Brian Slusser, Shooter’s owner and a member of Alpine’s Ski Patrol for 15 years.
Slusser brought Shooter up to Alpine last year when he was a puppy to get him familiar with ski lifts, skiers and the veteran rescue dogs. “Getting them used to all sorts of situations is the first step in training a dog used for rescue,” said Slusser.
This year, Shooter has been trained to do live rescues. Beginning as a puppy, dogs are taught games of run away and fetch using two people. One person holds the dog, while another person runs away. The dog is released and taught to find the runaway person. That leads to a three-person runaway game — one person holds the dog, one person runs and hides and another person covers the simulated victim with snow.