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Avalanche rescue dogs pass the test

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For people like that, who are ill-equipped when an avalanche occurs, the dogs are really their only chance of survival.

Within minutes of flying in on the long line, the rescue dog started digging in one spot and found what he was looking for buried in a snow cave.

"The creation of CARDA was to get a network of teams in place in the mountainous regions of the province so that they are able to respond quickly," said CARDA President Anton Horvath, who is also an avalanche forecaster at Whistler-Blackcomb.

He has been involved in the program almost from its inception in the early ’80s and has been involved with the executive for the past 15 years.

Horvath, along with his three-year-old German Shepherd Macklin, is one of the five avalanche dog teams on Whistler Mountain. There is one team on Blackcomb, along with a volunteer team and two more teams currently in training.

Although the chances of an inbound avalanche are highly unlikely because of the comprehensive avalanche program at Whistler-Blackcomb, the teams are there for back up just in case.

"If there’s ever an incident in the ski area we’re able to respond," said Horvath.

"But if a ski patroller was out on an avalanche control route and he was buried in an avalanche during the course of conducting patrol, his best chance of survival is with an avalanche transceiver. If it failed to function for whatever reason... then our only other means of finding him would be with the dog. So it’s kind of insurance for our patrollers in conducting avalanche control."

The dog teams can also respond very quickly to any of the surrounding mountains if there is an avalanche in the backcountry.

"We have such readily available access to the backcountry here," said Horvath.

"We can respond very quickly anywhere on the mountains from here to the other side of the valley at Rainbow or on the Pemberton Ice Cap."

As soon as they get the call to respond the clock starts ticking.

There is an 80 per cent chance of survival in the first 20 minutes of burial. After that the chances of a live recovery drop dramatically.

If there’s any doubt that the dogs are a crucial part to an avalanche rescue, just ask Forest Latimer, a ski patroller at Fernie where the only live recovery with a dog has taken place in Canada.

It was there two years ago that a young liftie decided to ski off a designated route and triggered a size two avalanche.