Middle-schoolers spend day with Copper ski patrol | VailDaily.com

Middle-schoolers spend day with Copper ski patrol

Robert Allen
Summit County, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colorado ” For a few minutes Wednesday morning, seventh-grader Andrew Hartley was alone under the snow at Copper Mountain, obscured from sight.

But soon, Tracker, a golden retriever trained as an avalanche-rescue dog, made his presence known.

“I could hear it crunching ” like the snow crunching,” Hartley said moments later, after he was “rescued” from a hole on the side of the mountain south of the Resolution Lift.

“When you got in there, it felt like it was going to be a really small space, and dark,” he said, snow still clinging to his ski jacket. “But when I got in, it was actually pretty light.”

Hartley got the honor of being buried as part of the “On the Right Track” program, which recognizes middle-school students who shine on a variety of fronts ” such as academic performance, school spirit, service to others and attendance.

He was one of about five Summit Middle School students on the mountain Wednesday, learning firsthand the responsibilities of ski patrol.

For the avalanche drill, Tracker was carried to the scene on skis by handler Darrell Dingerson, a member of ski patrol.

Tracker, who wore a red ski-patrol vest with a special beacon, can catch the scent of people buried deeply in the snow and makes a special digging motion when she’s discovered a target.

The dog set to work the moment her paws hit the ground. Soon, Hartley was out, and Tracker was onto the scent of the next volunteer.

The middle-school students got to skip class for a day on the slopes when conditions were nice and the sun occasionally peeked through the clouds. They were out until 3:30 p.m., touring a ski lift’s motor room, training with beacons, evacuating lifts and more.

A tour of the ski-patrol station at the top of the mountain included explanations of safety gear and rescue sleds. One particularly large sled is used to accommodate patients receiving CPR while being taken down the mountain.

“And if we’re coming down on this, we’re probably calling the helicopter,” said ski patroller Cuyler Cameron, who’s hosted the SMS program at Copper for the past four years.

The morning began with an avalanche-mitigation explosives drill before the lifts opened.

Dylan Reid, one of the students, said it was cool to “feel how heavy TNT is.”

He said one of the explosions made a hole that was maybe 5 feet by 5 feet.

“It had a huge hole in the ground,” he said, adding that he was looking forward to the evacuation drill, which occurred later in the day.

“This trip is amazing and just a great experience,” Reid said.

Kaitlin Raymond said the explosives would be neat for making snow forts, considering their deep impact in the ground.

“It was really cool and really loud,” she said.

Amy Vanwel, dean of students and co-principal at Summit Middle School, said the students must go through a process to be selected for the “On the Right Track” trips.

They fill out applications that must be signed off by all teachers, a school staff person and a parent, and then they request the trip they want to take.

Other trips include the National Western Stock Show in Denver, a Rockies baseball game and a raft trip.

“Copper is one of the most popular,” said district spokeswoman Julie McCluskie.

Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or

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