Years ago, I was skiing in Squaw Valley, California when a massive avalanche knocked out power to the lift my brother and I were seated on. While we dangled high above the snow packed ground, the ski patrol updated us constantly on the status of the rescue efforts. At different intervals during our 5-hour ordeal, we watched the rescue dogs run back and forth, nose to the snow, surveying the situation with a keen sense of danger.
At the time, I was a young teacher on a ski vacation. While waiting to be rescued, my brother and I (both in our early 20’s) told each other stories to pass the chilly time. I had been discovering the joys of children’s literature along with the young children I taught, and recounted the story of an enchanting children’s book called, Ski Pup by Don Freeman. This book, set in the Swiss Alps in the early 1960’s, tells the story of a Saint Bernard named Hugo who was learning to be a rescue dog. He was being tutored to keep vigil over the children of the village ski school. Hugo took his job as rescue dog very seriously (not unlike the dogs we were watching below). When he finally heads out on his first outing with his trusty thermos of hot chocolate (I thought they carried something stronger) around his neck, he soon discovers that it’s all fun and games for the little boy that he rescues.
Back to the avalanche: It was a dramatic situation that was resolved without physical harm. In fact, everyone on the ski lift skied down to safety guided by the ski patrol and rescue dogs. Afterwards, a group of us discussed the connection between the humans and the canines. This seemed to help us get through the ordeal. I remember being scared, but there was something about the competence of the team of patrollers and the seriousness of the rescue dogs that took the fear away. After the adventure, the dogs were given a cue by their trainers, and took off with abandon and started sliding around in the snow as their elated rescue victims cheered.
A friend recently sent this fun video that reminded me of that unusual day. It especially brought back the enjoyment of watching the rescue dogs at the end of their workday.