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Avalanche Rescue

Avalanche rescue dogs and how they save lives along the Wasatch Front.


Utah Rescue Dogs

Utah Rescue Dogs

Man’s Best Friend is also an important friend when survival is on the line.


It is a scary word for Utah backcountry enthusiasts, as well it should be. It takes only five seconds for an avalanche to reach a speed of 40 mph. The force of this cascading snow is crushing– pounding into a person’s pants, boots and even under their eyelids.

Utah Rescue Dogs

If there is any hope for survival, it results from quick action using both can be picked up by rescue searchers even when the victim is buried under tons of snow.

Cardinale got started in rescue work by first joining the ski patrol, and then further refining his rescue skills. “The mountains are awesome, but unfortunately people get into trouble. We try to educate folks and save them from bad situations.” In addition to 100 human volunteers,  modern technology and an ancient one–dogs.

Dean Cardinale works for Snowbird Ski Resort, is president of Wasatch Backcounty Rescue and has been involved in rescue work for 21 years. Aside from being aware of conditions and letting others know of one’s plans, the best advice Dean can give a skier or snowshoer is to wear a beacon. A beacon sends out a signal that there are 30 dogs that are also emergency trained which are owned by the ski resorts. Cardinale holds them in high regard, since each dog can search an area eight times faster than a person. “We love the dogs and they are important tools for us to use.”

For Cardinale, life and death are both possible outcomes of a search. “As rescuers, we are proud of the job we do. We learn from our experience  and get that much better the next time.”

Adam Swillinger and Woody

The same dedication holds true for the canines. Casey Robinson Manus has been working with her golden retriever, Uinta, for six years. She belongs to Rocky Mountain Rescue Dogs, which works with lost persons as well as snow victims. “Uinta is amazing. She has such a talent for rescue work,” Manus said. Dog and handler teams train one weekend a month. A recent session took place at the Lagoon Amusement Park. Teams dispersed to find “victims” hidden throughout the park. Dogs worked methodically, finding their quarry and alerting their handlers. For this reason, the group’s motto is “Fede Canem: Trust the Dog.”

This winter if there is abundant snow, there will again be the chance for tragedy to strike and put life in jeopardy. Rescue dog team member Dave Perks acknowledges this reality and the dedication it calls forth. “No matter how it turns out, I don’t like to leave anyone out there.” he said.

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