Water Rescue Training | July 2020

This past week, a few C-RAD teams had the opportunity to participate in water rescue training with Summit County Search and Rescue Group. Water training involves the same scenting techniques used in avalanche search and rescue, but the dog must remain in the boat, presenting a new learning curve for dogs and handlers.

The end goal is the same: to find submerged victims. Instructor Jake Hutchinson sums up the training by saying, "At the end of the day, human scent is the same regardless of the medium. It's just exposing the dogs to the different nuances of each and learning to read them." Ultimately, some dog teams will become certified in water search and rescue, and for other teams, it's an excellent way to keep them thinking and using their noses.

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post about the strong relationship between C-RAD and Summit County Rescue Group, and why it's an essential collaboration. 

Puppy Training During a Pandemic

Avalanche puppies wrestling
Charger (left) and Neve (right) wrestle at Copper Mountain

When C-RAD dog handlers Janie Merickel and Nick Slaton each brought puppies home in February, they had no idea they'd be training Charger and Neve under stay-at-home restrictions. What they discovered is that quarantine provides a valuable opportunity for bonding and training time, especially with the mountains in their backyards. At a little over four months old, these avalanche dogs are learning fundamentals of bonding, socialization and engagement.

"Overall, it’s been fantastic," Merickel said. "There are some things I wish we could do more of, like spend time with strangers [for socialization], or work on distracted obedience; things like having her sit at the entrance of the grocery store as people go in and out...distracted obedience is something we’ll have to simply pay more attention to in the upcoming months."


Puppy with adult dog and handler
"Baloo, my validated dog, teaches Charger things, like how to stay out of the way of the skis,and what the commands mean, and she learns fast that way. It’s awesome."
Puppy in shopping cart
Environmental training at Lowe's: getting used to the sights and sounds of the outside world.
Two dogs snuggling
Baloo, Merickel's validated dog, and Charger learn each other's ways.


It's common as dog enthusiasts, and especially as working dog handlers, to feel unnecessary training pressure with their puppies, which is defeating. Instead, Merickel emphasizes observation and engagement with Charger's natural inclinations, and how she can tailor her training plan around the dog.

Slaton echoed similar sentiments. While it's an unusual time, he's grateful for the extra time with Neve. "Sure it would be great to be on snow, riding snowmobiles, skiing [at the ski area], and getting these pups accustomed to the lifestyle. We would normally be preoccupied with the daily grind but are now presented with a great opportunity to build trust and continue engagement training, which can be very important foundation work," he said.


Golden retriever puppy gazing at handler
Nick Slaton and Neve enjoying some serious bonding time.
Avalanche puppy digging in snow hole
Luckily, with plenty of snow to be found up high through spring, Neve gets plenty of training time.








Black lab with dog handler
Janie Merickel and Charger enjoying their stay-at-home time together.

Merickel said taying at home has actually allowed more time together as dog and handler, along with the entire family, strengthening the bond, trust and understanding that's key to success as search and rescue training progresses.

"I learn about [Charger] and accept her ways, and she adapts to me, the handler, the great provider of all things important. Whew, when I say it like that it really does sound like a lot of responsibility, but it is, and I view it that way. This puppy is a gift, and I will do whatever it takes to do the right things, to get the best training to become the best asset for our community," Merickel said.

2020 Winter Course | February 2-6

Last week, we hosted our 6th annual C-RAD Winter Course at Vail Mountain in Colorado. It was a whirlwind five days of classroom learning, dog obedience training, avalanche rescue scenarios and more. Over 30 dog teams from Colorado and surrounding states joined us, in addition to 13 avalanche technicians, plus instructors from the U.S. and Canada.

Ski patrollers at avalanche dog course with dog Row of participants with dogs at avalanche dog course Ski patrollers on chairlift with dogs

For the first time, we dedicated a full day to avalanche technician training. "Techs," as we call them, are integral to avalanche search and rescue. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at the technician role on the blog, coming soon!

Dog and handler doing training with avalanche probesAvalanche dog plus handler walking together in the snowAvalanche tech digging in snow during training

Thank you to everyone who joined us, especially those who traveled long distances to share their knowledge and insights with us. This training is invaluable for us to continue to further the C-RAD mission. See you next year!

Avalanche dog taking a break from digging in the snowAvalanche dog with goggles on a snowmobileGerman shepherd avalanche dog running through snow

C-RAD Winter Course | February 3-7, 2019

Last week, we hosted our Annual Winter Course at Keystone Resort in Summit County, Colorado. Representatives from over fifteen Colorado organizations joined us, including ski patrollers and members of search and rescue groups, task forces and sheriff's offices.

The course included four very full days of training, with avalanche technicians and dog handlers all focused on improving themselves as teams and resources. In addition to outdoor drills, instructors helped us with dog behavior training , as well as classroom sessions for handlers and avalanche technicians. Instructors from C-RAD, Canada Task Force 2 (a disaster response team), Teton County, Idaho Search and Rescue plus Summit County Rescue Group all provided incredible knowledge and feedback to help new and seasoned dog teams grow their skills. And we had a lot of fun in the process!

We want to say thank you to everyone who made this course successful, especially to our C-RAD donors, and everyone who continues to contribute to our mission. It's courses like these that help the C-RAD community thrive.

All photos by Dave Camara.

High Altitude Aviation Training Station + CRAD Drill

Happy February from C-RAD!

Our Annual Winter Course kicks off tomorrow, February 3 at Keystone Resort. Stay tuned for photos and a recap of the training coming soon. In the meantime, here's a really cool update about another type of winter training.

Last week, C-RAD teams performed an avalanche rescue drill with the High Altitude Aviation Training Station (HAATS), which is run by the National Guard in Gypsum, Colorado. We collaborate on drills like this to prepare for large avalanches with multiple burials. Dog teams from Beaver Creek and Vail exchanged via Black Hawk Helicopter, where multiple burial scenarios were waiting for them, including live burials, multiple avalanche beacons and Reccos.

A HAATS Black Hawk helicopter can transport five rescue personnel, plus two to three avalanche dogs to a scene. Additionally, a Black Hawk is better equipped to fly in adverse weather and to precarious locations than Flight For Life helicopters that are used for standard rescue missions. Kudos to our Beaver Creek and Vail Mountain dog teams, plus HAATS for a successful drill!

Special thanks to Drew Warkentin and Sam Bryson for sharing their photos with us.

Summit County Sheriff Commendations

Last week, the Summit County Sheriff awarded commendations to seven C-RAD members and three avalanche dogs for separate backcountry rescue missions performed during the 2017-18 winter season. We're extremely proud to work with these folks, and the commendations are well-deserved. Awards were given to Bob Nothnagel, Hunter Mortensen, Greg Dumas, Keith Hiller, Dom Vallone, Jake Ziemski, and John Reller, along with validated dogs Loki, Sasha, Max and Recco.

C-RAD is supervised by and works closely with Colorado Sheriff's Offices (and sometimes agencies outside the state, as was the case with a rescue in Montana last winter). When an avalanche incident is called in and it's determined a rescue is necessary, the local Sheriff's Office helps to deploy a dog team, which consists of an avalanche technician, avalanche dog and dog handler. These teams are generally on-call at a ski area. Usually Flight for Life Colorado and other search and rescue personnel are also part of these missions. You can read our public missions reports here.


What's it like to be a new dog handler?

C-RAD has some new faces this year, including new avalanche dog Tikka and her handler, Erich! Tikka is eight months old and just started work at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. We chatted with Erich about his first months as a dog handler.

1.Why did you want to be an avalanche dog handler?

I’ve always had a connection with dogs and it was never really a plan, but when I started ski patrolling, I saw an opportunity. It seemed like it would be an awesome thing to do to bring my two passions together.

2. How did you choose Tikka?

We talked to multiple breeders that we had past experience with, either through A-Basin or C-RAD and settled on one that had a litter with timing that worked for us. We visited the puppies at about six weeks old and evaluated them. We examined their curiosity, temperament, drive and a few other behaviors. Ultimately, We felt Tikka had the best chance for success in our program.

3. So far, what’s the most rewarding part of the job?

Watching Tikka grow from 9 weeks old to now and seeing how much she’s progressed and what she’s done; having the opportunity to mold and shape a puppy into a well-behaved dog and getting into the rescue training.

4. What about the most challenging part of the job? 

Trying not to make mistakes that will have lasting effects on Tikka's training. That, and feeling like I never have enough time to train with her as much as I'd like. But, I just keep reinforcing positive things and going with my instincts, and it usually works out.

5. Tikka just started work at A-Basin. Tell me about her first few days.

Her first few days have been filled with brand new experiences. Snowmaking guns, snowmobiles, snow cats, being around skis and skiing, and being in a new place up at Patrol Headquarters. She’s been adapting and getting used to her new workplace and everything that comes with it.

6. What’s your favorite part about working with C-RAD?

The camaraderie with the other handlers and the openness and willingness to help each other succeed. Also, having the opportunity to potentially save a life one day.

Fall C-RAD Scholarships

Every fall, C-RAD awards training scholarships to enthusiastic dog handlers and avalanche technicians for multi-day avalanche rescue courses. These include Wasatch Backcountry Rescue’s International Dog School in Utah and the American Avalanche Institute K9 Training Course in Wyoming.

The curriculum for these courses includes some of the highest level of instruction in the world, and serves as an invaluable resource for new and experienced dog teams alike. Students are able to immerse themselves in hands-on training they can't get anywhere else, and are able to learn cutting-edge techniques from a diverse group of trainers and avalanche experts. They bring this knowledge back to their teams, and help Colorado continue to stay at the forefront of avalanche rescue. This type of training carries a hefty price tag, and we’re thrilled to be able to help offset the cost with scholarships for deserving members.

We couldn’t do it without the generous support of our donors. If you feel compelled to help dog teams attend training, please head to our donation page. Thank you for your contribution! If you're a member and want to apply, please complete your application in the member portal and get it back to us no later than Thanksgiving.

2018 Fall Training

We hosted our  annual C-RAD fall training last week in Summit County, Colroado. Participants from all over the state joined us for the four-day training, including handlers, dogs and avalanche technicians (avy techs). We were lucky enough to have some very talented instructors from all over North America to share the best dog training techniques. We were not so lucky to have cold, snowy weather for our outdoor scenarios, but everyone toughed it out and did a fantastic job!

The main focus of the training was avalanche rescue, but included obedience and agility work, as well as water rescue.

Flight for Life Colorado joined us so the dogs, handlers and avy techs could train with the helicopter, which is a key part of many avalanche rescue scenarios.

Thank you to all this year’s instructors and participants. It was a very successful C-RAD training and we’re looking forward to many more!