Watch now: Like Ava, the avalanche dog, at Snowbowl in Flagstaff | Local contributes to safety in the mountains

Spice said Ava has been training for her role as an avalanche patrol dog since she was seven weeks old. Much like hunting dogs are trained to fetch birds, Ava was trained to use her keen sense of smell to find things hidden in the snow. When Ava was younger, Spice explained, her training mainly consisted of finding small pieces of clothing buried just under the surface of the snow. As she got older and more experienced, Ava would complete her training sessions searching for completely submerged patrols several feet below the surface.

According to Hagerty, Ava’s training sessions are designed to simulate an avalanche rescue situation as closely as possible. Typically, Ava performs bravado and can locate the patrol officer in less than five minutes.

“We train them to be search and rescue dogs that specialize in finding the smell of people buried in snow in the rare event that there should be an avalanche that would bury a skier or snowboarder,” said Hagerty. “She could use her acute sense of smell to alert us humans to where this victim would be buried under the snow. That way, we can work with patrols as a team, and patrols can help us rescue this person.”

Ava trains year round to make sure she is ready to rescue a buried avalanche victim.

Snowbowl, with permission

Work hard, play hard

While avalanche search and rescue training is serious work, Ava finds joy in her role on the mountain, according to Hagerty.

Dogs enjoy playtime and fun, Hagerty said. So she found ways to integrate play and tension into Ava’s training sessions. For example, Ava’s reward for finding a patrol buried in the snow receives a big tug of war party. Hagerty explained that the person hiding under the snow has a tug toy with them. When Ava finds her, she is greeted with some serious game of tug of war.

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