Video: Metro reporter gets buried alive in simulated avalanche, saved by rescue dog
Share via Email
The only sound I hear is that of my own body breathing in and out.
It’s been that way since I climbed into a snug hole carved into the side of Revelstoke Mountain Resort in B.C., and flashed a “thumbs up” sign to ski patrol.
As I lay there in the fetal position, the patroller covered my one escape with large slabs of snow and ice.
“Are you OK? I’m going to fill in the cracks with snow now,” he says.
The outside world is silent for the next 15 minutes, although everyone on the surface says they keep trying to communicate with me.
I can’t tell.
Today, I’m put in the role of an avalanche victim.
Al Roberts and his faithful companion Sadie, a seven-year-old Belgian-shepherd cross, bide their time in the kennel on top of the ski hill when Roberts hears “go ahead” over the static on his radio.
Sadie knows it’s time to work.
She leaps out of her cage and barks excitedly as Roberts steps into his ski bindings and starts descending the mountain.
To the naked eye, it’s impossible to tell where I’m buried.
Sadie impatiently paces back and forth as they reach the bottom of the run.
“Are you ready to go to work?” Roberts works Sadie up into a frenzy. “Search!”
The sound of my breathing is joined by a faint rustle overhead.
Although I’m not in real danger, my spirit soars on a gust of optimism as rustling turns to scratching, and scratching turns to the distinct sound of paws digging through snow and hurried panting.
Bits of snow come free and sprinkle down on me as the sounds get louder.
Suddenly an entire block comes down and I see Sadie’s wet nose poke through the opening.
She barks, grabs the old, raggedy sweater I’m holding in my left hand and starts tugging at it, helping me as I claw my way out of the cold prison with my free arm.
Roberts, his boots crunching on fresh powder as he races toward us, keeps Sadie motivated.
“What did you find? There’s a good girl, good girl.”
It was a minute and 30 seconds from the time Roberts shouted, “Search!” to the moment Sadie homed in on my scent and started digging for me.
Roberts explains that he and Sadie, like all members of the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association (CARDA), are able to cover an area six times that of a team of human searchers in just a fraction of the time when responding to an avalanche.
The effectiveness of rescue dogs can’t be understated.
“When you’re buried, every second counts,” is the tagline used on CARDA’s website.
Once on scene, Roberts’ job is to see which direction the wind is coming from and send Sadie into it.
“The scent of the person comes out of the snow just like smoke would out of a hole. It takes the path of least resistance, out of the snow and into the wind,” he explains.
“Once the dog gets into the scent cone, they can pinpoint where it’s coming from. You can see their head just snap back and you can tell there’s something there. They become more intent on finding where the scent is coming from, and as soon as they find it in the ground they just dive right in.”
And anyone buried underneath is usually glad they do.