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Hatchet prepares for a rescue drill.

Aspen Skiing Company

This Dog Could Save Your Life!

Furry heroes like this one come to the rescue of the slopes

“Search!” Hatchet hears the command and races through the snow on a Colorado mountain. A life could be on the line—and every second counts. Suddenly, the dog stops and sniffs at the ground. He barks and begins digging. In just 90 seconds, Hatchet helps free a person buried in the snow.

The scene above was just a drill. No one was in danger. It’s all part of Hatchet’s training at the Snowmass ski resort. He helps rescue skiers and snowboarders who get trapped during avalanches (AV-uh-lanch-ez). 

Avalanches are big piles of snow that suddenly slide down mountains. The snow can move at 80 miles an hour, faster than a speeding car on a highway. An avalanche can sweep over people and bury them, which can be deadly if they’re not found quickly.

Scholastic Art Dept. (diagram); Science Source/Getty Images (avalanche)

Avalanches often occur without warning.

The Nose Knows

Avalanche dogs like Hatchet work at ski resorts across the country. They are known as “avi” dogs, which is short for avalanche. They work with human members of ski patrol teams.

Dan Berg runs the avi dog program at Snowmass. He says that dogs are perfect for this kind of rescue work. Their noses are much more powerful than human noses. That makes it easy for them to sniff out a person trapped in the snow.

“A dog will take around 20 minutes to check a site the size of two football fields,” Berg says. “That would take a group of humans several hours.”

Rescue Heroes

Avi dogs begin training as puppies. They practice running through the snow, riding on sleds, and safely getting on and off ski lifts that carry them to the top of the mountain.

The pups also practice rescues. They learn to find buried objects, like a scarf rubbed with a person’s scent.

Sometimes human volunteers hide under mounds of snow. The dogs find them and dig them out. After each drill, the dogs get a special reward—a game of tug-of-war.

“Avi dogs greatly increase a person’s chances of survival in an avalanche,” says Berg. “And they are great fun to work with!”


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