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Working Dogs

Training to Be an Avalanche Rescue Dog: Our Life in the Swiss Alps

Ruffwear Ambassadors Sarah and Bolt are embarking on the ultimate challenge — training Bolt to become an avalanche rescue dog. Follow along on their journey at @australianshepherdbolt.

Hello, I’m a 25-year-old ski instructor living in the picturesque town of Zermatt, Switzerland. My life here is a thrilling mix of skiing, running a mountain restaurant, and training my trusty Australian shepherd, Bolt, who is to be an avalanche rescue and mantrailing dog.

Pursuing a Higher Purpose: The Path to Avalanche Rescue

Throughout my life, I've always felt a deep connection to dogs, particularly working breeds like the Australian shepherd. There's something so fascinating about their intelligence, loyalty, and boundless energy. And deep down, I've always known that I wanted to do something meaningful with Bolt — to give him a purpose, because he just loves to have a task and show his “will to please”! And at the same time, make a difference in the world. That's why I've set my sights on training my Australian shepherd for avalanche rescue.

Sarah decides to train her dog Bolt to become an avalanche rescue dog.

When I learned about the world of avalanche rescue dogs, I knew I had found my calling. The idea of training my Aussie to be part of a team that saves lives in the most challenging conditions is both thrilling and humbling. In the Swiss Alps, where avalanches can be a real danger, our mission holds particular significance. Our journey towards becoming an avalanche rescue team has just begun, and it's not without its challenges. But the path we've chosen is one of purpose, courage, and service to others. With each training session, Bolt gets closer to being ready for the life-saving work he's destined to perform. Over the years, I've had the privilege of knowing many avalanche rescue dog handlers. These remarkable individuals and their courageous canine companions work tirelessly to ensure the safety of those venturing into avalanche-prone areas. Their stories are filled with bravery, teamwork, and selflessness, and they've always fascinated me.

A Mentor's Call

One day, I met the person who would change the course of my life. They approached me with a fervor and an infectious enthusiasm for the world of avalanche rescue. Their words were like a call to action, an invitation to be a part of something greater. Their dedication to this noble cause was evident in every gesture and every word.

My mentor generously shared their knowledge, experiences, and the different types of training required for both dogs and handlers in avalanche rescue. They provided invaluable tips, from understanding the basics of search and rescue to navigating the complexities of high-risk environments. Their guidance was a lifeline as I began my journey.

What truly stood out was their unwavering belief in the importance of what they did. The motivation to save lives, to make a difference, and to work as a team in the face of nature's fury was something I couldn't ignore. Their passion was not only inspiring, but also contagious.

A Journey Begins

I decided to heed their call and join the world of avalanche rescue. I started my training, and I'm proud to say that I've never looked back. This journey is not without its challenges, but the inspiration I received from my mentor continues to light the path ahead.

Sarah and Bolt in the Swiss Alps.

Bolt's Odyssey: Preparing for the Avalanche Rescue Challenge

My steadfast Aussie companion, Bolt, and I embraced a rigorous journey in anticipation of the imminent avalanche rescue dog entry test in December. Here is how we prepared:

Cynologic Exam: Our days began with obedience training and commands that tested Bolt's intelligence. The cynologic exam lay ahead, demanding flawless execution — a foundation for the life-saving endeavors to come.

Theoretical Test: A 60-question theoretical test unfolded across four vital domains. From first aid to the intricacies of LVS (avalanche transceiver) operations, the delicate skill of probing, and mastering the art of orientation, Bolt and I developed deep knowledge that would be our compass in the unforgiving alpine environment.

Ski Touring: The mountains became our training arena as we tackled the ski touring, around 500-meter ascent in the tight embrace of just one hour. Bolt's enthusiasm matched the thrill of navigating snowy peaks.

LVS Training: In avalanche safety, our LVS training sessions took on a sense of urgency. With the clock ticking, I had to find two LVS hidden in the snow in under seven minutes.

Bolt begins training to become an avalanche rescue dog.

The bond between us transformed into an unspoken language, a testament to the trust and communication vital in rescue scenarios. As the autumn leaves crunched beneath our feet, Bolt and I stood at the cusp of December, ready to face the avalanche rescue dog entry test. With Bolt as my reliable partner, I felt a blend of excitement and confidence. Our training journey, marked by dedication and shared achievements, embodied the remarkable capabilities of this Australian shepherd and the unbreakable bond forged between a handler and their rescue companion. Together, we were prepared to navigate the challenges of the alpine realm, answering the call to be a beacon of hope in the face of avalanches.

Bolt's Triumph in Avalanche Rescue: Journeying Towards the Brevet ‘A'

December 2nd marked a significant milestone in our pursuit of excellence as an avalanche rescue team. Bolt, my trusty companion, and I faced the rigorous entry exam with determination, and I am thrilled to share the joyous news — we passed.

Bolt passes the entry exam.

Our journey doesn't end here; instead, it propels us forward into further training and an exciting challenge on the horizon. The forthcoming weeks are packed with anticipation as we prepare for the next milestone – the Brevet "A" exam in January. This intensive week-long training program is our bridge to success, blending a wealth of theoretical knowledge with hands-on practical exercises tailored to strengthen Bolt's skills and our partnership. The training regimen is intense but purposeful, laying the foundation for the challenges that lie ahead. Bolt and I will immerse ourselves in a sea of information, absorbing the intricacies of avalanche rescue techniques and fine-tuning our abilities to work seamlessly as a team. The bond we've cultivated will undoubtedly be our greatest asset during these sessions.

One of the most thrilling aspects of the Brevet "A" exam is the task that awaits Bolt — a 20-minute search mission to locate a person buried beneath the snow. It's a real test of his training, agility, and innate instincts. As we prepare for this crucial moment, I can't help but marvel at Bolt's dedication and the incredible journey we've shared. Our days will be filled with practical exercises, simulated scenarios, and exhaustive training drills, all aimed at ensuring Bolt is primed and ready for whatever challenges the exam may present.

Bolt performs avalanche rescue dog training drills.

As we navigate the complexities of avalanche rescue, our shared experiences become the bedrock of our success. The camaraderie between us grows stronger with each passing day, a testament to the countless hours invested in our training. Bolt's unwavering determination and my commitment to his development as a rescue dog create a synergy that's palpable in every exercise we undertake.

Bolt and Sarah are ready to continue the journey.

So, here's to the journey that began on December 2nd, where Bolt and I passed the entry exam. As we forge ahead towards the Brevet "A" exam, our spirits are high, and our determination unwavering. Join us as we navigate the final stretch, ready to face the challenge head-on and prove that together, we are an unstoppable force in avalanche rescue. The adventure continues, and Bolt and I are more than ready for whatever lies ahead.