Man’s Best Friend Only Scratches the Surface
By Bill Becher, The New York Times
Is this photo cool or what? It shows Sean Macedonio, a ski patroller, and his Golden dude King. An Avalanche SAR Golden, he’s trained to dig through the snow to rescue those who are trapped. You can learn more about this special working field at our site’s page on Search and Rescue.
MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. — I was buried alive. A pale blue light filtered through two feet of snow over my head. I could hear muffled voices, but I stayed quiet and tried to imagine what it would be like to be buried in a real avalanche.
In early February, I was a volunteer victim in a rescue training exercise here. Ski patrollers at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area had dug a small snow cave, big enough for me to lie on my side, and covered the entrance with snow. They punched in some air holes so I did not have to worry, and it was surprisingly warm in the cramped space — snow is, after all, a good insulator. The patrollers supplied me with a small two-way radio and checked in every few minutes to make sure I was all right.
If all were to go as planned, a 2-year-old golden retriever named King would find me and dig me out. But first I had to wait until my scent could be detected through the snow. To make the situation more realistic, the patrollers scattered skis and poles and said they would be shouting when King made his appearance, riding on a snowmobile with his trainer and owner, Sean Macedonio.
Macedonio, who has been a ski patroller for 13 years at this large resort in California’s Eastern Sierra, has been training King for avalanche rescues. When King is not out on the mountain, he rests in a kennel at the ski patrol office in the main lodge. Macedonio has trained King to ride ski lifts, sleds and snowmobiles.
The resort pays for training courses in Utah and contributes toward King’s upkeep, although he is Macedonio’s dog and goes home with him at night. Macedonio helps raise money for King’s food and veterinarian bills by selling T-shirts and hats with a logo of a paw print.
Bill Cockroft, a senior vice president at Mammoth Mountain, said Macedonio’s passion got the program started. Like other ski areas with steep terrain and heavy snowfall, Mammoth Mountain has an aggressive avalanche-control program. Ski patrollers use a 105-millimeter howitzer on loan from the Army and hand-thrown charges to release snow before it becomes a danger. But unexpected slides occasionally occur.
That happened here last season when two skiers were partly buried. Macedonio took King to the site, and they helped search the area to make sure no one else was buried.
There’s more . . . .