Timber is a five-year-old Golden Retriever. He loves to hunt pheasant with his handler Jon Marshall, but come ski seaso, he's a working dog.
"Timber loves his job. If he's not out working every couple of days, he gets really antsy and won't sit still. All of our avalanche dogs have a lot of drive for their job," says Bridger Bowl Ski Patroler Jon Marshall.
Their job is to use their nose find people buried in an avalanche without a transceiver.
"If they were to become buried, it's very hard to find them. It's like finding a needle in a haystack and that dog and the dog's nose are so strong that they can actually smell that scent percolating up through the snowpack," says Marshall.
We wanted to see just how strong Timber's nose is so, we asked Marshall to demonstrate one of Timber's search and rescue drills, where a ski team member is buried in terrain meant to mimic an avalanche aftermath.
Sure enough, Timber found the victim in less than two minutes.
Even though Timber's been an avi dog for two years, Marshall says training is an ongoing, progressive process.
"Starting out with very simple drills and making it a big game and finding someone with a tennis ball and retrieving and playing tug of war and then you progress into harder and harder problems until you get to the point where you have multiple victims buried up to three to five feet deep and you're timed and we're trying to get them to a point where they can consistently alert on a signal and then find that victim," says Marshall.
That's because a well-trained avalanche dog can mean the difference between life and death in a worst-case scenario.
"We have a lot of different ways to mitigate the hazard out there but you can never 100 percent count on Mother Nature cooperating with you and, in a worst-case scenario, a dog is just another tool in our arsenal for finding somebody that gets buried in an avalanche," says Marshall.
He may be a life-saving tool but all Timber knows is that he has a job to do.