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)

PHOTOS: Meet Fernie’s team of 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

AvalancheOutdoors and RecreationSkiing and Snowboarding

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

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

Two RCMP officers have been recognized for their actions in responding to an incident involving a man with a weapon at 4501 Park Ave. on the afternoon of April 27, 2020. RCMP say it was an isolated incident and there is no danger to the general public. (Jake Wray photo)
Terrace RCMP officers recognized for acts of bravery

Two involved in arrest of armed suspect

There were 14 new COVID-19 cases recorded in the Terrace local health area between April 4 to April 10, 2021. (British Columbia Centre for Disease Control)
New COVID-19 cases in Terrace area remain steady

There were 14 new cases in the Terrace area between April 4 and April 10, 2021

The City of Terrace announced on April 15 that it has hired Tara Irwin as its new director of leisure services. Irwin previously held the role of city planner. (Black Press Media File Photo)
The City of Terrace announced on April 15 that it has hired Tara Irwin as its new director of leisure services. Irwin previously held the role of city planner. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Terrace hires in-house candidate as director of leisure services

Tara Irwin departs as city planner to take senior leisure services role

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

John Furlong, Own The Podium board chairman and former CEO of the Vancouver Olympics, addresses a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday November 25, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
John Furlong presents 2030 Winter Games vision to Vancouver Board of Trade

Vancouver and Whistler would remain among host sites because of 2010 sport venues still operational

Photo by Metro Creative Connection
New campgrounds coming to B.C. parks as part of $82M provincial boost

This season alone, 185 campsites are being added to provincial parks, says Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Paper Excellence took over Catalyst Paper operations in B.C. in 2018. (Paper Excellence photo)
The plane blasted through an airport fence and down a hill, before stopping before a cement barrier on Highway 5A, right in front of a school bus. Photo submitted.
Student pilot crashes plane onto Highway 5A almost hitting school bus

Aircraft hit pavement right in front of school bus

Eight-year-old Piper and her family were raising money to help Guinevere, the bearded dragon, get a gynecological surgery. Sadly, the reptile didn’t survive the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Lizard fails to survive surgery, GoFundMe dollars help Langley family offset medical bills

Guinevere, a pet bearded dragon, underwent an ovariectomy on Tuesday

A driver stopped by Saanich police following a road rage incident on April 15 was found to be impaired, in violation of a license restriction and in a damaged vehicle. They received a 90-day driving prohibition and a 30-day vehicle impound. (Saanich Police Traffic Safety Unit/Twitter)
Road rager fails breathalyzer on busy B.C. highway in vehicle he shouldn’t be driving

Saanich police say man was operating vehicle without required ignition lock

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Premier John Horgan booked to get AstraZeneca shot Friday

‘Let’s show all British Columbians that the best vaccine is the one that’s available to you now,’ he said

Most Read