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About the Program

Taos Avalanche Rescue Dogs is a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit organization providing additional financial support for the training of avalanche emergency response as well as furthering avalanche education in the Taos community.


Our avalanche rescue dogs are members of Taos Ski Patrol and the skiing community at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico. They are highly trained by Taos Ski Valley patrollers specifically in winter search and rescue scenarios involving one or more avalanche burials. With the ability to scent, find, and dig out a human being rapidly, their skill significantly increases the chances of survival.


Mission Statement


I. To provide additional support in the training and management of avalanche rescue dogs capable of working with multiple handlers in multiple burial situations. To also provide our handlers and trainers themselves with additional continuing education. And to help to maintain the program by bringing in new puppies with special attention to selection of breed, temperament, and successful obedience training.


II. To maintain and improve relationships and communications with the Taos community and within Taos Ski Valley itself. To implement new programs of outreach and education regarding specialized dog training as well as increasing Avalanche Awareness in the surrounding areas.

Our Dogs

Age: 9 years

Breed: Labrador Retriever

Nicknames: Mississippi Red, Red Rocket, Lil' Monster

Hobbies: Izzy loves running around as fast as she can like a bolt of red lightning and riding on snowmobiles.

Dreams: Izzy dreams of one day winning the Tug o' War Championships.


Izzy is our most energetic dog! She runs up and down mountains so fast, she doesn't let her small size keep her back. She's our little lightning bolt!




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Age: 4 years

Breed: Labrador Retriever

Nicknames: Brooksy

Hobbies: Brooks loves jumping five feet straight up like a grasshopper. This dog has springs for legs!

Dreams: Brooks dreams of tennis balls for daaaayyzz.


Brooks is an energetic, very small little dog. She is a great search dog and loves playing fetch!





Age: 7 years

Breed: Labrador Retriever

Nicknames: Sadie Mae, 

Hobbies: Sadie loves laying in warm sunshine and running fast through sparkling snow!

Dreams: Sadie dreams of chasing deer gleefully through green forests.


Sadie has such a sweet, energetic attitude! She's such a pleasure to have on the crew!




Kona Yuki

Age: 4 years

Breed: Labrador Retriever

Nicknames: K-dawg, Kona Coffee Bean

Hobbies: Kona loves trail runs through the mountains and swimming in the Rio Grande.

Dreams: Kona dreams of epic games of Tug and playing with her friends.


Kona loves to search for people in the snow and brings her playful exuberance to work and walks alike!




Our Retired Avalanche Dogs


Age: 8 years

Breed: English White Golden Retriever

Nicknames: June, Snow White, June Bug

Hobbies: June loves digging holes, disembowling her stuffed animals, and going on backcountry ski tours.

Dreams: June hopes that one day she will find a treasure chest full of tasty BBQ at the bottom of one of her many holes.


Juniper was our sweetest pup on the team and although she is now retired, we love seeing her when she comes to visit!


Age: 12 years

Breed: Golden Retriever

Nicknames: Diablo Rojo, Little D, Kitty Cat

Hobbies: Danin loves climbing and perching on any rock, railing, or furniture he's allowed on... he has balance like a cat!

Dreams: Danin dreams of a machine that will perpetually throw snowballs for him to catch all day.


Danin is retired now. While with us, he was very energetic when finding a person or article buried in the snow... he loved to work!


Age: 10 years

Breed: Golden Retriever

Nicknames: Oz, The Wizard, Lilo

Hobbies: Ozlo likes taking naps on the couch and getting pets from everyone in the room.

Dreams: He hopes to someday find a room full of smelly socks just for him.


Ozlo is a big, chill guy. When he searched avalanche paths, he's slow and methodical and often more efficient because of it! Ozlo is retired now. We miss having him up on the mountain with us!




Age: 14 years

Breed: Labrador Retriever

Nicknames: Hatmandoo, Hatty-hat, White Fury

Hobbies: Hattie liked eating chunks of ice she found outside. But her real favorite snack was a good apple core.

Dreams: Hattie dreamt of getting a hundred really good back scratches and chewing on tasty sticks.


Hattie was such a happy, chill old girl. She had many amazing years of service and we'll miss her lots.


And these amazing dogs who have passed on but we continue to love them lots.


Age: 11 years

Breed: Labrador Retriever

Nicknames: Tig Tig, Tiggy, Black Rhino

Hobbies: Tigger liked running after her pelota (her ball.. she knows Spanish!) and taking good naps.

Dreams: Tigger dreamt every night of a big, huge, juicy steak just for her.


Tigger was a sweet big lab and a wonderful avalanche dog. Her energy and attitude will be missed. <3


What do avalanche dogs do?


So what is an avalanche?

An avalanche occurs when snow that has built up on a steep mountainside suddenly releases. The power of so much snow sliding down at once can knock down giant trees and buildings in a matter of seconds! If a person is caught in even a small avalanche, they can easily be buried deep in the debris where they often suffocate. Many people every year die in avalanches.


Where do avalanches occur?

Avalanches can happen anywhere there is snow and a steep slope. Here in Taos, we have many, many steep areas... within the Taos Ski Valley boundaries and also beyond, in the wilderness. In addition, our particular snowpack here in the Southern Rockies creates the perfect snow conditions for avalanches. We see dozens of avalanches every winter.


How does an avalanche dog find a person under the snow?

A person buried gives off a scent. That scent percolates to the surface and with any air movement (even a slight breeze), it creates a 'scent cone' pinpointed at the victim and getting wider as it moves outward. Our dogs are primarily air scent trained but also use ground scent. Once the dog is brought to the avalanche debris, he or she is told it's time to work with certain commands. The handler and dog criss-crosses (called 'zee's) the path until the dog catches the scent of the victim. He or she then narrows the scent cone to the pinpoint and starts digging. The handler can then assist with a shovel and help to dig out the victim. This all occurs within minutes typically and an experienced dog can be very effective even on a large slide path with multiple people buried!

If you see a dog working on the mountain while you're skiing around... whether it's a drill or the real thing, the best thing you can do is ignore them until they are done with the work! They have a very important job and it's better for them if there aren't too many distractions!


How do we train the dogs?

The dogs join the patrol team as puppies. We typically select pups that are retriever type and have 'high drive' to work. Their first year on the mountain, they are slowly familiarized with the work environment... like learning to load and ride on snowmobiles and chairlifts and in toboggans. From day one, obedience training is very important. They must be very good at listening to commands. When a dog has matured sufficiently, they will begin their specialized advanced avalanche training starting with simple hide-and-seek games and moving into multiple buried victim drills. For the dogs, everything is treated like a game. When the successfully complete a drill, they are given their favorite tug-toy and lots and lots of praise.


How many dogs do we have?

Currently we have four full time dogs and one in training. Izzy, Sadie, Kona and Brooks are fully-trained and mature. And Finn is in training.

What do our dogs do in the summer?

Our dogs spend the summers having fun adventures with their Ski Patrol owners. Although they are part of the whole team and follow any Ski Patroller during the winter, they do each have specific handlers who take them home each night and also during the summers.



What does it look like to get rescued

from a shallow hole in a drill?

Our History

"In the early 80's, Taos' reputation for great powder snow and steep terrain was growing. With that, pressure to expand our boundaries grew as well. As we pioneered new slopes to ski, we began regularly skiing more terrain considered high avalanche hazard. With more guests entering avalanche paths in search of good turns, we felt it was only a matter of time before someone would be caught and buried. We needed a way to replace the old 'probe line' method of searching; it was really too slow to give a buried person a chance of survival (which is already only a 50% chance at 30 minutes).


There may have been one or two other ski areas in California that had avalanche dogs but there were no other similar programs in the Rocky Mountains at that time. Our first dog was a Golden Retriever named Amber. Then we trained Rocky, a big, black German Shepard. He was great at finding people but tended to be a little too agressive when he dug people out!... In his excitement, he would often grab a limb and just yank them out! We then switched just to Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers as these dog breeds' temprament and physicality seem best suited for the wintery, socially-intensive job. They are happy dogs that love to play and they have a wonderful, waterproof coat and powerful body that can travel effeciently through snow.


When we first started the program, we had some guidebooks to help us train the dogs but most of them were oriented toward Search and Rescue work. And although our avalanche searches were similar, the winter environment and the fact that our lost persons were buried (often deep!) in snow, forced us develop new methods as well. We probably learned more from our dogs and their natural instincts than we taught them!


Since then (and a couple dozen wonderful dogs later!), we have learned to consider them an integral part of our Ski Patrol team. And now many Ski Patrols nationally and internationally understand the value of these little miracle companions. They are, of course, important, life-saving partners when an avalanche occurs. But they also make us laugh and feel good every day."

- Rey Deveaux, Taos Ski Patrol

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Thank you to Ruffwear for providing our dog harnesses.

And a huge Thank You to Taos Ski Valley for supporting the vast majority of training and operations expenses!

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