If you are heading up Rainbow Ski Area before the close of the season you might be surprised to see something not usually permitted in a national park – a canine.
But Rosko is no ordinary dog. The labrador, German shorthaired pointer cross is a specially-trained avalanche dog that is our best line of defense in case tragedy strikes.
“A dog is unbelievably efficient at getting an avalanche field, not disturbing it and locating a victim,” says Rainbow Ski Area’s general manager James Lazor. “If there is an avalanche, time is of the essence.”
But until Rosko arrived for the last part of the ski season, the closest avalanche dog was in Methven.
“We call them, and we are looking at three hours before a dog gets here.”
James says with spring conditions heating up the snowpack and more skiers heading out into the backcountry, there is a big risk of avalanches. On top of that, James says Rainbow has some of the best snow coverage in the country right now.
“If they don’t check in with us, we don’t know,” says James. “If a witness sees an avalanche then tells us we have to mobilise and we are under that crunch.”
So, the Rainbow team are working with LandSar, police and the Department of Conservation to help train for avalanche scenarios and James says having Rosko there has made all the difference.
But Rosko wouldn’t be up the mountain if it wasn’t for his handler Cait Hall who has taken him through all the training needed to get him certified. First, she had to find him, though.
“Really it comes down to going with the gut. They need to pass obedience tests and be able to work with other dogs. They need to be able to stay in once place and come back to the handler without being distracted.”
The hope is for Rainbow to get its own permanent dog – but at the end of the season Rosko will head back to Wanaka with Cait.
James says he wants skiers to be more aware of avalanche risk when up Rainbow. Behind the rental shed there is a board that is updated daily with the snow conditions.
He says that people wanting to head back country should always check in with staff, so they know where they are going.