Safety Snow Pups

Stuck on the mountain? Copper's furry four-legged friends are ready to sniff you out. Copper Mountain Avalanche Dogs, or C-MAD, train each day like their getting a call tomorrow. Discover the hard work that goes into training these snow pups into becoming lifesavers.

Safety Snow Pups

After an awesome day of backcountry skiing near Copper Mountain, you hear a loud CRACK! Next thing you know you’re buried neck deep in snow. Panic-struck, there’s only one question you keep asking yourself, “Who's gonna find me?


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Photo: Ski Patrollers Reed Ryan (left) & Whitany Baker (Right) with Sioux


Meet Sioux; a two-year-old black lab and hide-and-go-seek extraordinaire. She’s the answer to the mind-boggling question above. This snow pooch is one of the newest additions to the Copper Mountain Avalanche Dogs, or C-MAD. Sioux offically started her training in March of 2011, but the C-MAD program began in late 80's and has been growing steady each year. “We have seven avalanche dogs with two dogs still waiting to pass their certifications,” says Sioux’s handler and Copper‘s Ski Patroller, Reed Ryan. Each week, Ryan and Sioux train hard to make sure his four-legged companion is up-to-snuff. So what makes a good avalanche pup? Well, not only do they have to love snow and have a super fantastical nose, but they also need to have the perfect balance between being hard-headed and eager to please. That's a tough combination to find.

Like any partnership, it takes two to tango – that’s Spanish for dog safety. Dog handlers have to be able to read their dog’s alerts and areas of interest signals. "Sioux's alert signal is pretty simple to read. Her tail goes straight up and she starts digging away," says Ryan.  This might be stating the obvious but handlers also have to be completely obsessed with dogs. Here’s a neato pictorial of Sioux’s secondary handler, Whitney Baker, showing off a little ink. If that doesn’t scream C-MAD fanatic, then I don’t know what does. There's no doubt that these ski patrollers are dog lovers.


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 Photo: Ski Patroller, Whitney Baker


This Turner and Hooch snow duo start their day by riding up on the chairlift or snowmobile. Sioux prefers the snowmobile. Then Sioux, aka the quicker-digger-upper, heads inside to Patrol Headquarters to check-in for training. “Even though it’s rare that we use our C-MAD dogs, we train like we could get a call tomorrow,” explains Ryan. Here’s a quick video of Sioux's first hide-and-go-seek burial drill.


 "We're here for the community." - Copper Mountain Ski Patroller, Drew Gibson


All Ryan has to say is the S-word. That’s right; Ryan yells SEARCH and Sioux whizzes off to sniff out the snow trench. Our furry friend discovers Baker in less than a minute. It was pure textbook C-MAD execution. Baker immediately rewards Sioux with a fun game of tug-a-war and praises. Test burials have to be one-to-two meters deep with down winds for an intense nose workout. One exercise called the scent article drill uses three-day worn pj’s and buries them deep into the snow. This drill imitates a person buried deep into hard-pack snow where odors are tough to sniff out. It’s like a P90X workout for a dog’s schnozzle.


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It's pretty cruical to have these dogs out there with ski patrol because once a person becomes buried, detection by the naked eye is impossible. C-MAD is a ski patroller’s best tool for a quick discovery. These furry lifesavers are the ones that can cover risky terrain and avalanche areas about eight times faster than us two-legged folk. Without C-MAD, ski patrollers are just poking around in the snow. At the end of the day, it's about keeping everyone safe. "We're here for the community," says Copper Mountain Ski Patroller, Drew Gibson.

You can check out Copper Mountain Avalanche Dog demonstrations with Ski Patrol each Saturday. Just meet at either the top of the Flyer or Super Bee lifts at 12:30pm. We wish Sioux the best of luck as she joins the C-MAD dream team of snow-snifflers here at Copper. Here are couple other names that make up the C-MAD all-star roster:



  • Copper - Golden

  • Scout - Chocolate Lab

  • Recco - Golden

  • Bridger - Yellow Lab

  • Sioux - Black Lab




Photos by Scott Brockmeier

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