I made the mistake of sitting down and it’s not likely I’m getting up anytime soon. Luckily the laptop was within arms reach so I can download my thoughts at the end of this busy but really great weekend. I’m pretty sure the last 48 hours have been pretty good but I seem to be having a memory problem and can only remember the last 36, so I’ll just start there.
First of all, there are some nice people around here. I’m having a bit of a bike pedal shortage lately and have been borrowing my friend Ted’s pedals. Interestingly, when Ted set up my bike so we could go riding a few months ago, he brought pedals and bottle cages for me to use. When we were done, he took the bottle cages back but said I could keep the pedals for a while. OK, I would have done it the other way, value-wise, but whatever you say Ted! Evidently Ted cast a wide net for pedals AND has awesome friends, for this fine gentleman dug into his spare parts bin to provide me with yet another set of pedals to use, which is awesome because not only are my cranks turning by proxy Travis Brown power, the pedals are Eggbeaters, which I’ve always wanted to try! I’m stoked for that.
If that wasn’t enough, Ted’s father-in-law brought fresh seafood from Mexico and therein commenced a feast of shrimp, clams, linguine, and other tasty treats, cooked by Ted’s wife Moira who is coincidentally one of the most badass women I know. I was hesitant to try a shrimp because although I like the IDEA of shrimp, I don’t actually like shrimp. But I was lured by someone’s declaration that Baja shrimp are the best in the world, and it turns out that is very likely to be true, and I ate about fifteen of them. And they aren’t small. Neither was the volleyball-sized portion of linguine I put down.
Good thing I carb-loaded at the dinner party last night, because today was a big day for Geardog and me – our live audition with one of the local ski patrols. Well, audition may be a funny way to put it, but when you’re an out of state dog handler getting permission to bring your dog onto the mountain for the first time to do avalanche training and it’s the ski patrol director himself who meets you to ride up the lift, you know you’re being evaluated at least a little bit. Dogs on ski hills are a big deal; they can create a hazard to guests and the dog, and in order to be good citizens of the mountain, their training has to be perfect. Dogs must learn all the skills required to safely move about the mountain, including chairlift riding, snowmobile riding, safe skiing with their handler, and safety around skis – and most of all, total, strict obedience. Geardog is five and half and he’s been doing search training since he was three months old, so he’s very dialed. I was confident in his abilities but still nervous at the opportunity to show him off to a bunch of longtime ski patrollers, with the likelihood of ever being invited back hanging in the balance.
We rode the lift and skied to the patrol shack without incident. My little heart swelled with inward pride as we skied to the shack, Geardog cantering perfectly between my skis, and I heard the patrol director say, “All right, that dog is on task!” The patrollers set up an article search area for me, sacrificed some clothing to the gods of burying stuff for avalanche dogs, and then we chatted a bit while the articles sat under the snow for a while to make the problem better for Geardog. When it was time to do the search, the patrollers gathered around while we demonstrated how we find things buried under the snow.
Geardog galloped around the area, doing a quick sweep and “getting his ya ya’s out” as we say in the dog handling world. He showed interest in an area that had no article buried, and I watched with a bit of confusion as he returned to the area three times, sticking his nose deep into the snow and then running over to me, clearly trying to tell me that something was there but nothing he could pinpoint. I’ve learned to trust him, so although I didn’t understand why he was interested in that area, I explained to the patrollers that in a real search, I would recognize that he was showing interest in that area, and call in a probe line to investigate further.
One of the senior patrollers spoke up. “I just realized there’s a backpack buried there…I forgot!”
“That explains it,” I replied, “I’ll just dig it up.” I struck my shovel at the snow and found that under the 4″ of fresh was a huge mound of ice. “um, I guess I’ll just move him on,” I said, and told Geardog with a hand gesture to just keep searching elsewhere. He made quick work of the rest of the problem, finding the two buried articles with no issues. Later the senior patroller told me he was seriously impressed (if I may share with you, dear readers) by Geardog indicating where the backpack was. “We buried it a month ago, and it’s five feet down,” he told me. I was very pleased as the problem had ended up simulating an actual search during which Geardog would have to indicate the general area of a buried scent source and then move on to other areas. It was also a great follow-up to my descriptions about what it’s like to search for deeply buried avalanche victims – dogs rarely can pinpoint them, they just show diffuse interest, and it’s up to the handler to interpret that behavior.
The ski patrollers were great and welcoming and had many insightful questions. I had a great time with them and am hoping to do it again. Even though that particular ski area has no avalanche danger to speak of, any training opportunity is a good one for Geardog and it’s always good to get to know fellow responders. The icing on the cake was permission from the patrol director to ski down rather than download the chairlift – he hadn’t pre-approved the skiing idea, having undoubtedly wanted to see Geardog operate first. So we got a good avalanche problem, a nice visit with ski patrol, and a good ski down for Geardog, who is crashed out in his kennel now, happy as a dog who spent all day on the ski hill. I even got to ski a few runs gratis as a thanks for doing the demo.
Before I left the mountain, I tested out a new beacon from Ortovox at the beacon park and, as a preview, I’ll say that I LOVE THAT BEACON. Not to be a spoiler, but the review will be good.
So now here I am, happy to be off my feet and sitting, but very happy that I was on my feet so much this weekend. Thank you to all of the wonderful Durango people who contributed to making my weekend so awesome.