Noah and his “FirstMate”, Chilkoot, have an incredible bond and share a passion for Canada’s mountains, helping others and extreme sports. For the past 4 years, Noah and Chilkoot have been proud members of CARDA (Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association). They are one of six active avalanche rescue dog teams at Whistler Mountain Resort in British Columbia, Canada.
Chilkoot, a Golden Retriever, started his training as an avalanche rescue dog at just 10 weeks old when he first began accompanying Noah to work in Ski Patrol. Potential search and rescue dogs are selected as puppies based on their drive and willingness to work with a handler. The process of becoming a certified Avalanche Rescue Dog takes the better part of 2 years and involves a series of courses as well as countless hours of training.
The dogs are taught to use their keen sense of smell and natural drive to locate prey to pursue human scent under snow. The end goal is to be able to locate an avalanche victim and potentially save their life. The searching is introduced as a game of hide and seek to the dogs with an animated game of tug-o-war as the ultimate reward. Over time the scenarios or games become more complex as the puppies learn to hone their search skills and progress to finding a small amount of human scent buried deeper in the snow.
Along with the search and rescue work, the dogs need to learn the basics of mountain travel. Chairlifts, snowmobiles and helicopters are all part of how rescue teams move around the mountain and how they access avalanche incidents. Familiarity from a young age and positive experiences with these methods of travel are key to developing a dog and handler team that are ready to respond to incidents in a challenging mountain environment.
After 2 years of training, Noah and Chilkoot passed their exam administered by CARDA and the RCMP. They received the title of Avalanche Rescue Dog Team. At nearly five years of age, Chilkoot is just as keen to go to work on the mountain as he was on day one.
Most avalanche dogs have a working life between the ages of eight and ten years depending on breed and health.
Chilkoot eats a diet of FirstMate Pacific Ocean Fish Endurance/Puppy formula and according to Noah still has the energy and enthusiasm of a puppy. If you happen to be enjoying the ski season in Whistler this year, make sure to keep your eyes open for this amazing team.