Retriever to the rescue
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado ” One of the newest members of the Vail Ski Patrol is fast, friendly and knows the mountain like the back of his paw.
Henry, a nearly 2-year-old Golden Retriever, joined the patrol this season to be come the mountain’s first avalanche dog. His owner and handler, ski patroller Chris “Mongo” Reeder, has been training the dog to join the patrol since Henry was a puppy.
Henry’s taken on his first season with zeal. He’s officially the cuddliest member of the ski patrol, always ready to get hugs and ear scratches from passing patrollers.
“It’s the best job in the world for a dog,” Reeder said, watching Henry dig energetically in the snow. “He gets so excited.”
Many rescue dogs are retrievers like Henry, Labradors or sometimes herding dogs, Reeder said. Henry’s mellow personality and good listening skills makes him well-suited for the job, he said.
Reeder began training the dog by hiding Henry’s favorite toy in the snow and making him sniff and dig it out. Soon, Henry began to like the game, and Reeder would bury a person with the toy and have Henry find the person. Then, he took the toy out of the search altogether.
Eventually, the goal is to train Henry to be a backcountry search-and-rescue dog, which requires special backcountry and helicopter training. Both the dog and the handler need to learn how to get on and off a helicopter in the backcountry in the event of a rescue.
In fact, Reeder and Henry will be part of a backcountry training camp in February in Keystone along with about 20 other dogs and their handlers. The training is one step for Henry in becoming a Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment dog.
But machinery has never seemed to faze Henry ” he took right to riding the chairlift and snowmobiles, and even snowcats don’t scare him.
“A snowmobile is like a vacuum cleaner, which most dogs hate, times ten,” said Reeder. “But he never had a problem with it.”
Henry has truly become part of the mountain team ” he looks the part, from his casual familiarity with the slopes to the name tag on his red vest that reads, “Henry ” Grand Rapids, Michigan.”
He usually starts off his day with a morning staff meeting with other patrol members, then he rides up the lift to patrol headquarters at the top of Mountain Top Express, where Reeder does training drills with the dog in a roped-off area.
Sometimes Reeder will take Henry down on a run to Mid-Vail ” Reeder skis slowly while Henry lops along behind him.
Henry helps out with some public relations work, meeting and greeting guests.
“He makes people smile,” Reeder said. “No one can be within five feet of him without smiling. He’s the bridge that starts conversations. Someone will talk about their golden at home, and eventually, they’ll ask a question about the mountain.”
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