Inside The Life of Ski Patroller and Avalanche Dog Trainer, Sue Anderson
"Where do I start with how much I love my job?” asks 20-year Deer Valley Resort staffer Sue Anderson. As a ski patroller/snow-safety supervisor, Anderson and her rescue dog, a German shorthaired pointer/Labrador mix named Ninja, begin each winter morning at 5 a.m. And then, by the time most of us are just pouring our first cup of coffee, she’s out on the slopes, hand-throwing soup can–size explosives to force preemptive slides, thereby mitigating avalanches. “Unless you’re a snow-safety person, there’s nowhere else you can do this,” she says.
Explosives aside, Anderson says the best part of her job is helping those who are injured and can’t get off the mountain by themselves. Or when there’s an avalanche and “you search it with your dog and you clear it and know nobody’s buried. No one got hurt,” she says.
Anderson’s passion for helping people has spilled into her personal life as well. She’s completed numerous avalanche dog-training courses all around the world—her favorites were in Bulgaria and Switzerland. And for the last 17 years, she’s served as board member, trustee, and avid participant in the nonprofit Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, a group of volunteer ski patrol/rescue dog pairs from ski resorts across the central Wasatch Mountains who work together, under the direction of the sheriff’s department, to rescue people injured or lost in the backcountry.
Challenges in training dogs, explains Anderson, include getting them acclimated to helicopter travel (Ninja has been on 20 flights now) and keeping the dogs socialized. “Sometimes there are 15 dogs searching at once,” she says. “We can’t have dog fights then.”
Ironically, though Ninja is trained to search for victims by scent, Anderson was born with no sense of smell, a hereditary condition that she jokes “comes in handy dealing with stinky patrol boys!”