Meet Ember the Avalanche Puppy
Purgatory Resort welcomes the newest member of its ski patrol team. Ember, an 8-week-old black Labrador retriever, will join Purgatory’s avalanche search and rescue team to help keep winter visitors to Purgatory and the surrounding San Juan mountains safe. Ember is owned by Bristlecone Avalanche Rescue K9’s (B.A.R.K.). A 501c3 nonprofit, the foundation was formed in 2016 to train and support working or retired avalanche rescue dogs. B.A.R.K. is based out of Purgatory Resort with dogs Lida, Carson, and new pup Ember. Purgatory ski patrol director and EMT-IV, Blayne Woods is Ember’s handler. Avalanche dog handlers like Blayne are typically members of Search and Rescue with extensive first aid and backcountry skills, including avalanche coursework and certifications.
“Speed is critical in avalanche rescues, with victims having little chance of survival if they are buried for 30 minutes or more,” explained Woods. “In five or ten minutes, a trained avalanche dog can search an area the size of a football field. By contrast, it would take a person about 4 hours to search the same area. Since chances of survival in an avalanche burial drop after 15 minutes, a trained dog team can be the difference between life and death. For a skier stranded on a snowy mountain, avalanche dogs are your best friend.”
Ember and Blayne will train as a team following the Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment (C-RAD) validation protocol for certifying rescue dogs. Full avalanche rescue certification typically takes 2-3 years from puppyhood and includes both the dog and the handler. A validated team – one that can be used and trusted in rescues – must be able to find two buried human victims and two buried articles of clothing or gear in 40 minutes. Ember will spend her first year learning basic obedience, travel techniques with a skier, loading and unloading from a chairlift, riding on snowmobiles and in snowcats, and practicing drills from basic hide and seek, to find “victims” buried in snow caves and article searches. Starting this fall, Blayne and Ember will travel to Summit County to attend a series of training courses with C-RAD, the industry-recognized certifying body in Colorado.
Avalanches occur in the high mountains of Colorado as the result of snow accumulating on steep slopes. If the snowpack becomes unstable, it can suddenly release and rapidly descend downslope with enough force to destroy structures and uproot or snap off large trees. With steep slopes, lots of snow and highly fluctuating temperatures, Colorado’s San Juan Mountains have some of the most complex avalanche terrain and snowpack conditions in the U.S. “We are stoked to welcome Ember to our dedicated team of ski patrol professionals,” said Jim Brantley, Director of Mountain Ops. “Helping people enjoy our mountain SAFELY is our primary objective. People love dogs, and Avi dogs help raise awareness of the numerous hazards involved with traveling in avalanche terrain. We are proud to partner with B.A.R.K. and we are grateful to them for providing rescue dogs to help our patrollers work more effectively.”
Purgatory’s Snow Safety Program operates throughout the winter season to keep the public and employees safe. Purgatory’s professional ski patrol is trained in avalanche safety and performs avalanche forecasting and control work on a regular basis, as well as monitoring hazards and protection measures. Outside the eastern boundary of Purgatory Resort, the ski patrol manages several avalanche starting zones in the Monkey Brains, Monkey Gully, Monkey Launch Chutes, Sun Dog, and Columbine Gully areas. It’s critical that skiers and riders respect ski area boundaries and avalanche closure areas.
Avalanche education and snow safety equipment are a must for backcountry travelers, including monitoring the current forecast and avalanche danger rating at https://avalanche.state.co.us/.