Man's Best Friend Saves Skiers

Meet the avalanche rescue dogs at Colorado's Breckenridge Ski Resort.

ByABC News
January 7, 2010, 6:07 PM

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo., Jan. 8, 2010— -- Tali might just be the cutest dog you never want to meet.

Tali, a mutt, is part of an elite team of rescue dogs at Breckenridge Ski Resort trained specifically to find people buried in avalanches.

The ski resort does everything possible to prevent such disasters (we'll get to that in a minute), but sometimes catastrophe still strikes or -- more likely -- somebody skis out of bounds and gets caught in a slide.

That's when Breckenridge's ski patrol -- the largest in Colorado -- mobilizes.

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Tali, her ski patrol handler Hunter Mortensen and an avalanche technician hop into a helicopter and head off to help the trapped skiers. (Tali is just one of five rescue dogs that can be called into action.)

The technician searches for an avalanche beacon that one of the skiers might have. Tali and the other dogs do their own search.

"She's trained to find human scent coming up from the snowpack," Mortensen said. "She's just run around until she finds where that scent's coming up, and then she starts digging where that scent's the strongest."

The skiers are found, dug out of the snow and then brought by the patrol team down to the nearest road.

"Our primary role here is to be prepared at any time if there is an avalanche to head out, and if someone is not wearing a beacon or the proper equipment she's trained and certified to find them underneath the snow," Mortensen added.

But that's just the worst-case, out-of-bounds scenario.