Ski France – Rescue Dogs

ski france, rescue dogs, adventure travel writer, jack moscrop
Jack Moscrop
Written by Jack Moscrop

“Woof Factor Ten” published in Ski and Board. Fear not, avalanche rescue dogs are at hand when you ski France, as I discovered buried alive under the snow in Tignes.

Someone Furry Cares When You Ski France

Trapped several meters deep, I was beginning to freeze under the hard-packed snow. Had I been there five or fifty minutes? For the second time, the dull thud of footsteps pulsed through the snow. I held my steaming breath, straining to hear. Were the thuds moving in my direction?

They seem to pause directly overhead. I couldn’t cry out, my body was taught with anticipation, desperate for the scrabbling sound of pause or the swishing stab of an avalanche probe. With a gasp, I started breathing again. This was it, I was out of here!

But the thuds receded and the silence became even more intense.

I clung to the hope that my rescuer would return and tried to calculate how long another search cycle would take. Then a change in the snow disturbed me. It was a distant rushing noise. No, more of a vibration, like the milliseconds when you realize the tube train is coming but haven’t heard it yet. The sound took shape. A dog. A dog digging!
Bright light blinded me and I pressed the camera shutter. The things I do for a picture.

Once a year all the Savoie pisteurs and rescue dogs meet at Tignes to test the skills of their dogs by finding buried Army ‘volunteers’ – and me to this time.
On each simulated avalanche, the soldiers are kitted up in thermal suits, given an optional radio and buried in an area that has been ripped up by piste-bashers. Is each pisteur and dog criss-cross their assigned search areas. The dogs run free, a few meters ahead of the handler, searching for a scent.

Rescue Dogs Do It For Fun

When the dog starts digging, the owner keeps back. If the dog persists, the handler begins carefully lancing the snow with a probe. If he or she touches something solid, other pisteurs step in with shovels. All this time the victim plays dead. When the pisteur gives the nod, the victim holds out cloth cylinder the dog to grab play with. Along with enthusiastic stroking and congratulations from the owner, it’s the dogs reward; there is no food.

Impressively, most of the soldiers were found within twenty minutes. Two more had taken forty. Yet it took three dogs, one after the other, eighty minutes to find me.
“Can’t they smell Brits?” I asked with a smile.
The pistuer made a joke about roast beef, then said seriously, “The wind was swirling around your hole, disturbing the sent.”

Like firemen and paramedics, the pisteurs know their job can be dangerous but feel they need to save people. For the dogs the risks are the same, but who knows why they do it. Loyalty? Because it’s a game? Whatever the reason, it’s comforting to know man’s best friend is ready and willing.

After those sobering eighty minutes buried alive, next time I ski France and eyeing up the virgin slope of my dreams I’ll not be so quick to say, “Oh, it’ll be all right.”

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