Sierra Nevada ski patrol trains for avalanche rescue

CARSON CITY, Calif. (KTVU) -- Recent record snowfall in the Sierra Nevada has increased the risk of avalanche danger on the slopes but a team of ski patrol is using some innovative training techniques and some furry friends to help stave off disaster. 

More than 40 feet of snow has already piled up on the Sierra summit at Tahoe. Ski Patrol Director Mark McAllister said this season’s conditions have been unpredictable as he and his team surveys the snowpack and the avalanche danger.

"This year, we have no idea what’s going to happen," he said. "It rains. It snows. Everything is gigantic proportions. It's like a winter on steroids."

The ski patrol uniform includes a shovel, probe, and transceiver that can send out a signal for a rescue team if a skier is buried in snow.

McAllister’s team also works with specially trained dogs whose job it is to dig beneath the snow to find people trapped beneath an avalanche.

An older dog named Kunho is getting ready to retire after spending nearly 10 years on the job. However, the trainers are getting anther pup -- named Spooner -- ready for the job as Kunho nears the end of his training.

"It takes about two years of training before they are a fully certified avalanche dog," said Greg Lolli, a rescue dog handler. "And that is our goal by the end of this year is to get him fully certified so he (can be) a mission ready dog and (be) ready to go."

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It may not be long before the dogs’ skills are needed in an emergency.

There have already been reports of multiple slides at different areas surrounding Tahoe. And the winter storm on Feb. 20 is expected to bring about five more feet of snow to the region.

"A lot of our terrain has been getting snow and rain at different times within even a day," said Steve Reynaud, who works at the Sierra Avalanche Center. "We've had large avalanche cycles pretty frequently around all of these large storm events."

Visitors can check conditions at Sierra by going to the avalanche center’s website for daily updates and advisories. The center's website can be found by clicking here.