Winter Park Resort shows off new ‘avy cat’ in time for April Fools Day
But the real avalanche rescue dogs are no joke
A gruff yet gentle Maine Coon named Dakota graced the social media pages of Winter Park Resort on Monday, making his debut as the resort’s newest avalanche cat.
It was quite a schlep getting the 20-pound feline from Granby to Winter Park. First, he didn’t want to go into his cat carrier. He was finally coaxed in with a handful of treats. Then he persisted with a high-pitched — surprising for his size — meow while sitting in the back seat of my SUV. He wanted to stay home and catch up on his dreams of chasing mice; he doesn’t like to deviate from his daily routine.
You see, Dakota just happens to by my husband’s and my cat. And now he is the next critter that will attempt a rescue when a dreaded avalanche heads down a mountain.
Well, not really.
Of course it was a practical joke, concocted for April Fools Day by the brilliant, humorous marketing and social media minds at the resort. One of those being my good friend, Elizabeth “Biz” Brumm.
The idea was to play a little joke — albeit a pretty obvious one — and announce that the resort was adding a feline friend to their roster of avalanche rescue teams. Even though dogs and cats aren’t always the easiest to mix.
We got to the resort just in time for skiers and riders to vacate the mountain. A pretty heavy snow began to fall. Dakota, exclusively an indoor cat, didn’t know what to expect. His eyes continued to dart from left to right, up and down as he took in the scene. Frankly, it was a little embarrassing holding a cat in the middle of a ski resort, likely the first cat to ever be there, I’m assuming.
And why was a cat there? I’m sure people wondered as they walked passed us.
Should I have announced, “He’s here for a photo shoot.” I could imagine the even more confused stares.
It wasn’t exactly a fun exercise for Dakota, either.
He’s certainly used to people, but large crowds clearly give him anxiety. He dug his claws deep into my husband’s coat as he held onto him.
Then came Biz to take the photo.
We spent about 20 minutes trying to get Dakota to do something at least a little photogenic for Biz’s shot. I held a canister of his favorite cat treats behind the camera as an enticement. He didn’t fall for it.
Then the people started coming up to us.
“Oh, what a precious kitty,” said one skier.
“Look at that cute guy,” said another.
“Can I take you home?” asked one random guy.
I rolled my eyes and tried to gain Dakota’s attention away from his admirers.
Biz and I wanted to hurry up, get the photo, put Dakota back in his carrier and head home.
But then, for some reason, I had the bright idea to ask why not get a photo of Dakota on a snowmobile.
So our little group headed to the first one we could find. It didn’t go well.
Confident she had the best photo, we exchanged our goodbyes and headed home. Dakota bolted out of his carrier once we got inside. He didn’t seem at all fazed by his recent stardom.
He ran right to his food bowl and gave us the typical “I’m hungry” meow.
While the idea of an avalanche cat is great for some gentle comedy, Winter Park Resort’s real avalanche dogs are no laughing matter.
Pioneered four years ago by dog handlers Rico LaRocca and Nate Bash, the resort ski patrol’s program is steadfastly in place for whenever emergencies arise.
LaRocca and Bash have since progressed to advanced rescue througha nonprofit organization called Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment, or C-RAD.
The teams, sometimes called immediate search teams or hasty teams, are trained for their dangerous rescue work, born out of the deadly Peak 7 avalanche in 1987 that killed four near Breckenridge. C-RAD provides training and certification for hasty teams across Colorado’s high country.
The two men and their canine companions went on to take formal training courses, part of a continuous and ongoing process of education, training and practice. Initially, Bash and LaRocca took their avalanche dogs, a border collie named Charlotte and a since-retired black lab named Nuggit, to the resort two days a week. Once the program was established, though, they began looking into specialized training for rapid deployments.
So, don’t worry about ever having to deal with a finicky cat if you’re involved in an avalanche — Winter Park Resort’s advanced dog teams and ski patrol have you covered.
Besides, what cat wants to track through deep snow and get all wet?
Bryce Martin is editor of Sky-Hi News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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