Awaiting rescue in a snow cave

Jan 2011 – Greg Freyberg, Retail Brand Planner, describes his experience after being buried in the snow during a rescue trial at the Wasatch Backcountry Rescue School:

“Deep down in a 6’x8′ foot hole, I am somewhat protected from the -2 degree temperature outside.  I hear the pitter patter of little paws over my head. It’s Lemah, a three-year-old black Lab from Stevens Pass, Washington, trying to locate me under the snow. Suddenly, the pitter patter stops and the sound of paws scratching at the snow starts.

Dig Dig Dig…Dig Dig Dig…A small hole is punched through the snow, followed by a solid black nose. The nose quickly disappears and then, “BAM!”, with one quick motion Lemah is in the hole playing tug-of-war with me. It’s me and the toy against Lemah–and pulling on her toy is what Lemah does best.

What a day! This scenario played out countless times at the Wasatch Backcountry Rescue (WBR) School held recently in Alta, Utah. The WBR school is one of the premier Avalanche Dog Training Schools in the country.  This year, Ruff Wear was invited to participate in the school. Myself and Patrick Kruse, Ruff Wear’s Founder, spent two days shadowing these dogs and handlers-in-training.

Twenty eight dog-handler teams attended the event, with dogs ranging in age from six month-old puppies to eight year-old veterans. These dogs were there for one reason: to work hard and improve their skills in basic- to advanced-level avalanche rescue protocols.

There was plenty of play time as well.  For these dogs, playtime IS work time. These dogs are trained primarily with a toy-reward technique, where a successful search is rewarded with a toy play session.

Why was Ruff Wear there (besides the obvious…to be buried alive)? To eat, sleep, train, and play with these life-saving teams. Ruff Wear supplies gear to a number of these teams around country, and we wanted to see the gear in action.  By talking to the handlers and finding out how our gear performs for them, we learn what improvements to make,  and what other needs they might have.

Throughout the week, we were able to meet a bunch of really great folks, and get a ton of feedback on our gear–but none could compare to the privilege of being buried in a snow-covered hole awaiting the warm, wet snout of a dog on a mission.”

For more pictures of the WBR, click here.

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