Historic Alta, located at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon at the end of the most avalanche prone highway in the United States, is one of the nation’s oldest ski areas and is famous for its deep powder skiing and steep terrain.
Alta was the birthplace of avalanche research in the United States. The Alta Ski Patrol is made up of over 50 dedicated professional ski patrollers and four rescue dogs who work tirelessly to provide a safe ski environment for our customers. We also provide volunteer backcountry rescue services throughout the Wasatch Range with WBR and our county sheriffs’ Search and Rescue units. Missions include missing persons, mountain rescue, medical evacuations, and avalanche rescue. Alta Ski Area was a founding member organization of WBR and has one of the oldest avalanche dog programs in the country dating back to our first dog, Hey You, in 1980. Alta recognized early on that avalanche dogs would be an integral part of the ski area’s Avalanche Rescue Plan; as a result, Alta was one of the first areas to own its own dogs and provide full support to the ski patrollers who train them. Alta was also an early convert to the multi-handler system; each dog has several handlers who can work with the dog in emergency situations, allowing for the rapid deployment necessary to potentially save a life.
Our goal is to have dogs that any of our ski patrollers can take to an avalanche and work effectively until a handler arrives. Many ski areas in the U.S. now have similar programs. As of the 2009/2010 season, Alta has four rescue dogs, all Labrador Retrievers: eleven year old Binx, seven year old Ross, six year old Jake, and two year old Minga. We like Labs because of their instinctive hunt drive, intelligence, athleticism, ability to thrive in a cold environment, work ethic, availability, trainability, and their willingness to work for more than one person. Our rescue dogs have had six finds in the thirty year history of the program.
Alta is proud to cohost, along with our neighbor Snowbird, the weeklong WBR Avalanche Dog School. The School is the oldest dedicated avalanche search dog training school in the country. It allows us to train with, learn from, teach, and exchange ideas with peers from all over the United States and the world, and has enabled us to send teams to trainings in other parts of the country, Canada, and Switzerland in our never ending quest to make our program the best it can be.