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Avalanche dogs from various states train at Tamarack Resort

Instructors with the Colorado Rapid Avalanche Department taught 12 dog teams over the course of three days.

IDAHO, USA — Staying safe in Idaho's backcountry takes work — and sometimes even a dog.

In case of an avalanche, many ski resorts around the Gem State have avalanche dogs. Tamarack Resort has four.

"We have one validated dog, two that have passed their internal certifications and [one dog] in training," ski patroller Heather Thiry said. 

Thiry leads Tamarack's avalanche dog team. To ensure the dogs are in tip-top shape, she brought in trainers with Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment, a non-profit that trains and validates avalanche dogs around the country. 

Twelve dog teams from Idaho, Colorado and Montana showed up for a three-day intensive training this week. Thiry said it was a long time coming. 

"After a couple years of talking about this event, we finally were able to make it happen," she said. "It's very exciting." 

The dogs trained at four different sites at Tamarack. Thiry said they started off with simple drills since most of the dogs weren't used to training in large groups. 

On the second day, she said the dog teams started running through real-life scenarios with avalanche technicians. 

"We had two live finds," she said. "Then we had some other mannequins and stuff buried. Obviously, we can't really train for the exact same real thing, but that's as close as we can get."

Eventually, dog handlers took turns burying each other in snow caves. The dogs were tasked with finding the people as fast as possible. 

C-RAD trainer Eric Darling said traveling to different resorts, like Tamarack, helps them better prepare the dogs. 

"It's different textures, different weather, it's different thickness of snow," he said. "Who knows what's going to happen when the actual avalanche happens, so this is a great place to [train]." 

The group trained for up to 10 hours each day. Aside from physical training, the group also received some mental health training. Darling said prioritizing the handler's mental health helps not only the person but also the dog.

He said it can take up to 18 months for a dog to receive the necessary training for real-life rescues. There aren't certain breeds better fit for the job, but rather any dog with a certain amount of "drive." 

Sarah Butler traveled from Colorado with her husband to partake in this week's training. The couple is training their dog to join the C-RAD team. 

Butler is a first-time avalanche dog handler. She said having such a large group of like-minded people gather at Tamarack builds confidence.

"You learn so much in three days," she said. "It's just such a great resource exchange .... you know, this worked for me, well, didn't work for me doing this. Just being able to have that community and talk through some stuff."

All four of Tamarack's dogs partook in this week's training. While Thiry said avalanche rescues at Tamarack aren't all that common; they haven't deployed the dogs in several years. 

Regardless, she said the team still needs to be ready to go. Typically, Tamarack's avalanche dogs train two to four times a week for "worst-case scenarios." 

"Even if, in the end, there is an incident, ... if we go in a couple of hours afterward instead of maybe taking days for recovery, it might provide some quicker closure for the loss of someone," Thiry said. 

To avoid getting stuck in an avalanche, she said people in the backcountry should always travel in pairs and carry an avalanche beacon. 

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