Meet Josie and the Jackson Hole Avalanche Dogs

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January is the National Ski Area Association Safety Month.  This is a time for resorts to remind skiers and riders of the hazards and risks that are associated with our sport, so for the month of January we’ll be posting weekly with different educational blogs that are relevant to skiers and riders.

We like to keep it fun at JHMR and our Ski Patrol has created a series of ten collectible safety cards that have outlined the Skier Code.  Each card features photos of our great avalanche dogs demonstrating the different skier code reminders.  Make sure to pick up the cards from the Guest Service Center or from a Mountain Host while you are visiting!

dog cards

Over the course of the ski season we will follow around these fury little workers to demonstrate what they do, and showcase their different personalities and handlers.  Last week, we spent some time with this pretty lady.

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Meet Josie Wales, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Avalanche Rescue Dog.

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Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) began using canines for avalanche search and rescue circa 1986, and since their employment have been an invaluable part of the rescue team.  On any given day there are 3-4 dogs working, stationed strategically around the mountain for quick access to avalanche-prone terrain.  They work primarily at the ski resort, but travel to incidents in the backcountry.

In April of 1992, an avalanche occurred in the backcountry near JHMR, burying a skier under four feet of snow.  Rescuers searched, unsuccessfully, for an hour before avalanche rescue dogs were brought to the scene via helicopter.  The dogs located the skier, still alive, in ten minutes.  This was one of the first successful rescues by avalanche dogs in North America.
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Jackson Hole Ski Patroller Chris Brindisi is Josie’s owner and handler.  The dog and handler work as a team to conduct a search of the avalanche site and locate victims.
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Chris chose a german shepherd as his avalanche dog because of their strong work ethic, desire to please, and methodical temperament.  He likes the way they work, and, “they have more of an off-switch than other breeds”.
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In any scenario, whether a burial simulation or an actual avalanche, the rescue dogs give it their all. Says Chris, ”They want to take ownership of the search.”
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Josie’s stoic demeanor during down-time quickly changes when it’s time to work.  She can sense a training session before it’s spoken aloud by her handler…and when it’s time to go to work, she is game-on.

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In the rare case of an avalanche inside ski area boundaries (where skiers and boarders don’t normally wear avalanche beacons) the avalanche dog is the best chance of a swift recovery.  The odds of surviving an avalanche is about 90% at 15 minutes, then declines to 30% after 35 minutes.  Prospects of rescuing a live person diminish quickly thereafter.  In a situation where every minute counts, the dogs’ exceptional sense of smell and extensive training can be the difference between life and death.

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