Lily was deemed to have the right stuff, so there followed more training and eventually a weeklong winter course involving everything from recognizing human scents to learning to ride on ski lifts and snowmobiles and in helicopters.
Lily and Kirk successfully completed the works to become a “team in training” for a full year, followed by another weeklong winter course, which they passed to become a fully certified avalanche rescue dog team and validated members of CARDA. “So as you can see, it’s actually taken us quite a long time to come and rescue you!” laughed Kirk.
During the ski season, Fernie’s rescue dogs travel to work with their owners bright and early every morning, hitting the slopes well before the first skiers of the day arrive. Their kennels sit on the mountain at an elevation of over 6,000 feet. Ready to go into instant action, they will always be called out to any avalanche on the ski hill, irrespective of whether anyone is thought to have been buried or not.
Naturally enough, Fernie’s avalanche dogs are a popular feature of the local ski scene and receive a lot of attention when they’re on duty — after all, it’s not every day you see a dog riding along on a ski lift. They’re discouraged by their handlers from letting this go to their heads, though, because when all’s said and done, the avy dogs, unlike most of the people they meet every day, are in the resort to do a job. Their work is becoming more and more important as increasing numbers of skiers and boarders head away from groomed trails and “out of bounds” into potential avalanche terrain.