March 6, 2020
I kicked off March doing something I would have put on my bucket list if I’d ever gotten around to making one (and maybe not even then since this was more in the realm of “it would be nice but I’ve no idea how that could happen”): training with an avalanche rescue dog. I was the lucky winner in a contest the mountain had on social media and this past Sunday, I got to be buried in a hole in the snow and get rescued by the most experienced dog on staff, Annie.
First, I got to ride up the lift with her and two ski patrollers (her handler and the handler of the second most experienced dog—she was home resting up for the school she was going to later in the week). That in itself was a treat, getting to see how ready Annie was to work, hearing her little whines of excitement, watching her listen to her handler and obey the command to sit up on the seat and rather than leaning forward in an “I am going to jump off any second posture” which was her first choice.
When we got to the top, Annie leapt off the chair and shot straight ahead what seemed like ten feet, super ready to go. I skied down with one of the patrollers (and the woman who’d coordinated the contest and was taking photos) to the hole they’d already dug while Annie and her handler waited at the top. I got a briefing on the plan then slid into the surprisingly spacious chamber under the snow, holding the toy I’d give to Annie as her reward when she found me.
As the patroller filled the opening with chunks of snow, it got darker in my hole but never completely so, even after he shoveled loose snow on top to further conceal the spot. Then it got very quiet for a while. It was pretty relaxing, actually. I’ve never done a float tank or a sensory deprivation chamber, but I imagine this was something like that.
It was estimated that I’d be buried only 10 to 15 minutes but it turned out to be more like 20 to 25 as there was a group of junior ski patrollers on the mountain that skied down to observe and it took them a bit to do that. I was enjoying the quiet so didn’t mind. Finally, I heard the soft crunching of footsteps above me, then it was a flurry of shifting snow as Annie started digging with her handler’s help.
As soon as I could see Annie’s face, I told her she was a good girl. When the opening was big enough, I offered her the toy and to my great surprise, instead of taking it from me or playing tug of war with it, she came squirming into the hole with me. It was delightful! Too soon it was time for both of us to get out. Annie just grabbed her toy and jumped out, while it took me some effort plus the assistance of both patrollers to hoist myself back to the surface.
While we were chatting about the experience after, two boys skied up and asked the patrollers what happened. They said someone got buried and the dog found them and helped get them out. The boys asked who got buried and the patroller pointed to me. Very sweetly, the boys said they hoped I was okay. I assured them I was. Then one of the junior patrollers got buried so I got to see the process from the other side of the snow. It was a super cool experience all the way around, and I’m so happy and grateful I was able to do it.
The whole set of photos is here.