Tag Archives: search and rescue

This Week in Photos: February 22

1979

The crowds begin to arrive – the Olive Chair loading area on Thursday.

Blizzard! The scene looking down the Green Chair during the snowstorm on Tuesday.

The shed at Mons the day after firefighters were on the scene attempting to put out the blaze.

1980

Election day in the Myrtle Philip School gym.

Two of the many Japanese ski writers who have been visiting Whistler lately – From Skier Magazine in Tokyo (l to r) Photographer ‘Dragon’, Writer ‘Ando’, and Toshi Hamazaki of Whistler.

The new “guard rails” installed to protect the Lift Company office windows from skis.

No diplomatic immunity here – Mons prepares to tow away the Question truck from the lift base.

1981

Students at Myrtle Philip School take a look at cameras through the ages.

Nancy Green, Prime Minister Trudeau and Hugh Smythe spend the day taking in Blackcomb.

The Prime Minister was also taken on a tour of the construction sites of Whistler Village.

An unusually bright and empty view of the bar at Tapley’s.

Whistler Mountain’s Franz Wilhelmsen and Peter Alder watch proudly as Whistler’s Black Chair carries passengers for the first time this season on February 21.

1982

Search and Rescue Squadron 422 from Comox dropped into Whistler last week for a mountain rescue training session.

Stretching, an essential when preparing for a race.

A few Crazy Canucks share a laugh at Dave Murray’s retirement part at Myrtle Philip School.

The first test run of the fire department’s latest addition proved it could be instrumental in putting out high level fires such as the one at Whistler Village Inn January 13.

Long before they started making snow at Olympic Plaza snow piles have provided endless amusement.

A parking attendant’s dream… This giant tow truck pulled into town the other day – and quickly pulled out again, much to the relief of nearby parking violators.

1983

Soaking up the sun (l to r) Rosilyn and Marlin Arneson and Bill Bode of Washington State relax before calling it a day Monday, February 21 after the first really warm one on Whistler Mountain.

Sjaan DiLalla tries out one of the ranges in one of the 29 “studio lofts” in the recently opened Crystal Lodge.

First place team members in the Team Supreme competition. The event, held at Blackcomb February 20, raised $2,400 for the BC Disabled Skiers Association.

Seppo Makinen and Sam Alexander discuss Whistler’s proposed new Zoning Bylaw No. 303 with Assistant Municipal Planner Cress Walker.

Cross-country skiers set off on the Whistler Cross-Country Marathon which was held over a 20km route Sunday, February 20.

1985

Art ’85 was hosted in the gym of Myrtle Philip School this past weekend.

During an introductory press conference Sunday at Crystal Lodge, Todd Brooker (far left) introduces members of the Canadian Men’s Alpine Team: (l to r) Felix Belcyzk, Chris Kent, Paul Boivin, Chris McIver and Jim Kirby.

Canadian blues man Long John Baldry and crew crank it out at The Longhorn Sunday.

Jan Seger, Ski instructor, White Gold resident.

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(Mountain) Man’s Best Friend.

As the mercury in our thermometers and the snowline on our mountains continue to plunge, you can sense the excitement levels rising around the community. Whistlerites love to play in the snow, and a good many of us work in it too. The same goes for the dogs of Whistler. It’s becoming more and more common to see local dogs lapping up face shots as they chase their owners down backcountry ski slopes.

For some dogs, this surprising agility and seemingly unlimited energy in deep snow, combined with their amazingly keen sense of smell make them a huge asset in the mountains. Most of us know about St. Bernards, named for the Swiss mountain pass where monks bred the renowned rescue dogs. Dating back to the Medieval Period, St Bernards were credited with saving hundreds, if not thousands of snow-bound travelers atop the high-alpine pass.

Edmund Landseer's 1820 painting "Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveller" is the reputed source of the St. Bernard-brandy myth. While Landseer's hyperactive imagination invented the mini-kegs, the scene does show the dogs in their leaner, shorter-haired form. As well, while alcohol might make you feel warmer, it can actually accelerate the onset of hypothermia, making it less than ideal for rescuing victims of avalanches and blizzards.

Fewer are aware that in the early nineteenth century a series of deadly winters led the monks to cross-breed their remaining dogs with Newfoundlands. The resulting dogs were bulkier and had longer hair that clumped up in deep snow. Today St. Bernards are big and cuddly, but essentially useless in the mountains.

German Shepherds are much better-suited for mountain rescue. This is one of many bits of mountain-dog trivia one can learn from long-time Whistlerite Bruce Watt (apparently, the mini-keg of brandy around the St. Bernard’s necks is myth, as well). And Bruce should know; thirty years ago the former Whistler Mountain ski patroller successfully trained and certified Canada’s first civilian avalanche rescue dog.

This coming Wednesday Bruce will be giving a presentation about his role in the creation of the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) as part of the Whistler Museum’s monthly Speaker Series (event details available here). And yes, a real-life avalanche rescue dog will be there too!

The initial impulse to train avalanche dogs in Canada dates back to 1979. That winter Bruce Watt and an exchange patroller from Utah were buried by a large avalanche on the north slopes of Whistler Peak. Luckily, they both survived, but Bruce emerged from the near-catastrophe determined to contribute to snow safety and help prevent future tragedies.

Inspired by similar programs in the Alps and the western United States, Bruce decided to explore the possibilities of training an avalanche rescue dog. I’ll let Bruce explain what came next, but his efforts were well worth it, as today there are thirty-one certified rescue dog teams across western Canada.

As part of their training rescue dogs learn to ride on snowmobiles, in or hanging from helicopters, even on the shoulders of skiers! Photo courtesy CARDA

A 1998 incident in the Grouse Mountain backcountry clearly demonstrates how much the rescue dogs can contribute to stressful, complicated and hazardous winter search-and-rescue operations. During a heavy storm a skier had been caught in an avalanche and a search crew of eight rescuers and two dogs set out to recover the victim. With the avalanche hazard still high, the team found themselves in a compromised situation, “it was a very steep, cliffed area and just a rotten, horrible place to be,” recalls Bruce Brink, a Blackcomb ski patroller who took part in the search.

Without dogs, they would have been resigned to a time-consuming probe search requiring dozens of individuals. Instead, the two dog/handler teams were able to quickly the area in minutes, as the others stayed back, away from the slide risk. Convinced the victim was not in the area the teams pulled back.

Minutes later a class 2 avalanche swept through the search area and over a two-hundred foot cliff. “By having the dogs there we saved five or six lives, easy” Brink asserts.

Their agility and keen sense of smell enables rescue dogs to search avalanche debris much faster then a human, and the victim doesn't need to be wearing a transceiver. Photo courtesy CARDA.

With the coming winter in mind (La Nina!), Bruce’s talk promises to provide a compelling reminder of the ever-present risks in the mountains, while offering well-deserved recognition for the numerous individuals, human and canine alike, who endure countless hours and serious hardship to make these alpine playgrounds safer for us all. And yes, the rescue dogs, like their human counterparts, play as hard as they work up their in the mountains!

Photo courtesy CARDA.