Powder Mountain has always been that spacious mountain with that special hometown charm. Whether that “mountain magic” comes from welcoming locals, employees that genuinely love their work, or the stashes of powder that seem to last for weeks after a storm, everybody that skis here seems to agree: nowhere else in the world quite compares. Last week after the storm, Huck and I went up to meet the newest employee at Powder Mountain and to see how his pre-season work was coming along. Everybody, meet Hatch the Avalanche Rescue Dog, and his handler/ ski patrol partner/ and best friend, Nicole Dye.
Nicole grew up sliding on snow during the winter and casting a fly rod during the summer. She says she gets her love for the outdoors from her father, who ski patrolled at Powder Mountain when she was young. Nicole started as a volunteer ski patroller when she was 19, and quickly realized she needed to be on the mountain every day. Seven years ago she made the transition to full-time season employment at Powder Mountain and now gets to ski 100+ days a season.
Powder Mountain is a member of the Wasatch Backcountry Rescue (WBR) and their primary purpose is rapid response for avalanche rescue, winter-related mountain rescue, and medical evacuation incidents. Powder Mountain's dog program is currently growing in strong numbers. The last three years they have added three new dogs into the program, bringing their current total up to six dogs. For the past two seasons, Nicole began shadowing some of the dog handlers at Powder Mountain.
“I have always been a dog person, to be honest I'd rather spend more time with my dogs than most of people I know. It's amazing watching them work and the loyalty they show to their handler and the task they are completing”—Nicole admits.
Watching Nicole and Hatch train looks a lot like two best friends at play. At home, most of us focus on keeping our dogs quiet and calm. During the “run-away” exercises, Nicole works to get Hatch riled up, praises him when he barks, and focuses on getting him into his instinctual rescue mode. It’s a beautiful dance between obedience and instinct. Nicole explains, “When training, we try to initiate a prey drive out of the dog. We do this with a drill called "run-aways". Getting the dog super amped for his toy, and then we run away and hide, he gets to watch us the whole time. We release the dog and when he finds us and barks or digs we immediately reward him with his toy. The reward is key when you get the response out of the dog you are looking for. They relate their action with receiving the toy.”
Eventually, Hatch will begin training exercises called “blinds”, and later, live burials. “It becomes a game to them, and hopefully a game they become infatuated with”, says Nicole. “The only thing Hatch cares about more than me is his toy. And this is a huge indication of his drive, passion, and what we call victim loyalty. He's young still so it's hard to say where he will be in a few years or if he will make it in the program, but early on he is showing some positive indicators of an avalanche search dog.”
When the snow melts and the rivers run, Nicole is a full-time fly fishing guide in Montana. I think it’s a safe bet to assume that Hatch will stay in shape during the off season. “Whether I’m leaving for work, a bike ride, a hike, running errands, or having beers with friends, I don't ever leave the house without him”, she explains.
Does that sound like the dream job? How about the dream life? It’s no wonder why the crew at Powder Mountain is so welcoming, warm, and happy. Nicole muses, “The dogs increase morale and put a smile on everybody’s faces. How could they not? Having a creature running around the mountain that is so in love with their job makes it pretty easy to realize how cool of jobs we all have.”
Wasatch Backcountry Rescue not only supports the testing and training of K-9 search teams both locally and across the nation, they also respond to searches under the jurisdiction of five local county sheriff departments. Yet surprisingly, WBR is made up ski patrollers from member resorts and is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
What does this mean? Volunteers, donations, and fundraisers make WBR possible.
If you or your organization would like to support WBR as they continue their selfless work, visit their site today - Wasatch Backcountry Rescue Donations
Here's how Solitude Mountain Resort trains their avy dogs. And here's a collection of snow pups from across the state, who are now in the prime of their careers now as this piece was written a couple of seasons ago.
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