Tom Kelly: Ski buddy in training
Fresh fallen powder and a layer of hoar frost clung to the evergreens as we cruised up Sterling Express at Deer Valley Resort. My new ski buddy sat next to me, relaxing after our first run of the day.
The sun was finally splitting up the morning clouds and fog as we approached the top of Bald Mountain. It was one of those gorgeous moments when the weather breaks and the panorama of the ridgeline unfolds in front of your eyes.
Coming into the top terminal of Sterling, my chair mate looked straight ahead and suddenly took a big leap from the chairlift to the snow, quickly scampering out of the way as I followed.
Meet Tingo, Deer Valley’s newest avalanche rescue pup in training.
Earlier that morning, Tingo and I hung out in the Bald Mountain patrol shack, waiting out the early morning fog and learning more about what goes into his year-long training program with both Deer Valley Resort and Wasatch Backcountry Rescue.
Tingo was quick to greet me, sniffing the scent of our neighbor’s dog on my clothes before scampering to his perch on an equipment box in the back room of the shack. He then introduced me to patrol supervisor Max Gans, a 10-year Deer Valley veteran who was guiding him through the training.
The patrol shack is pretty good digs for a pup like Tingo. “What I really like is when Max puts my mat over by the heater,” said Tingo. “It can get cold up here.”
Tingo came to Deer Valley from Tremonton, born last fall in an unexpected litter. “We always try shelters first, but we weren’t having any luck,” said Max, “so we found him from a family online. We look for heelers, border collies, German shepherds — dogs that have really hard drive and are good working dogs.”
Tingo is just a pup — a mix of border collie and blue heeler. He looks up to Rooster and Ninja, Deer Valley’s veteran avalanche dogs.
Dogs are yet another tool for ski patrol and backcountry rescue teams to help find victims of avalanches. To get his initial certification, Tingo will be in training for a year — with Deer Valley along with Wasatch Backcountry Rescue. After that, he’ll serve at the resort as well as on call for regional backcountry rescues.
“Sometimes I don’t understand this obedience training,” said Tingo, as Max put some food 18 inches away and set his timer for three minutes. Tingo sat there, patient and obedient, until the alarm rang.
Obedience is a vital component of avalanche dogs getting to a scene safely, keeping their focus on being a rescue tool. The initial goal in obedience training is staying still for five minutes — the last three without Max at his side. That’s just one step on the pathway to finding one to three subjects buried in the snow in a 100-yard by 100-yard area.
Max serves as his primary trainer, working with him every day he’s on the mountain at Deer Valley, plus taking him to regional trainings at Alta, Brighton and other resorts.
With the fog lifting a bit, we headed out for a few runs. Max grabbed Tingo’s goggles, placing them on his head. “I just don’t like these things,” said Tingo, shaking them off as he sprinted over to a bench to pose for photos.
Standing atop Nabob, it quickly became clear that Tingo was a people magnet. He played it cool, hangin’ out in Max’s jacket as we pointed our skis into the fall line.
“I think the skiers all love me,” said Tingo. “They think I’m cute.”
As we hit the flats, Tingo hopped out onto the snow for a little feet coordination training, running along the snow between Max’s legs as he snow plowed down the run.
While Tingo is just 4 months old, Max takes a lot of pride in his baby. “It’s really cool to be able to have a connection like this,” said Max. “It’s pretty rewarding to see him progress.”
Tingo takes it all in stride. It’s a nice life hanging out in the patrol shack. “But what I really like is heading down after sweep at the end of the day.”
With the crowds gone and only a few of his red-jacketed patrol buddies out on the hill, Tingo gets to head down on his own alongside Max.
“I just love sprinting down Homeward Bound at the end of the day,” said Tingo.
He may be just 4 months old, but Tingo is already well on his way to becoming a certified avalanche dog. Watch for Tingo, Rooster and Ninja next time you’re at Deer Valley.
Wisconsin native Tom Kelly landed in Park City in 1988 (still working on becoming an official local). Inducted into the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2019, he is most known for his role as lead spokesperson for Olympic skiing and snowboarding for over 30 years until his retirement in 2018. This is his 52nd season on skis.
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