Meet Ruddy: Mt. Bachelor's Newest Avalanche Dog
“Retrieve!” instructs Alex, an avalanche dog handler at Mt. Bachelor. Ruddy sprints into an open snow cave as high-speed winds push his floppy ears back. Heavy snowfall sprinkles his brown and white snout with powder.
Ruddy dives into the cave and snatches one end of a teal Pacific Loop™ Toy, tugging playfully while Alex holds on.
“Good boy!” praises Alex. He nods at the 6-month-old Border Collie, “All done.” Ruddy wags his tail, a look of triumph painted across his face.
Mt. Bachelor’s Newest Avalanche Dog Duo
It’s a windswept, freezing Friday morning in the Cascade Mountains near Bend, Oregon. A few of my Ruffwear team members and I are out in the field today to learn about Ruddy, Mt. Bachelor’s newest avalanche puppy in-training.
Ruddy is a bright-eyed dog who, at first glance, has the charming goofiness of your typical puppy. Get to know him better, and you’ll see his hard-working determination. He goes about his training with a confidence that seems to say, I have a bright career path ahead of me.
Ruddy has the quintessential markings of a Border Collie with a few unique twists. A white strip of fur runs down his otherwise brown face. A subtle spot of pink decorates his right nostril. His lanky, white legs stand out against his chocolate coat – as if he’s sporting white knee-high boots.
On a typical training day, two handlers work with Ruddy in the snow cave. But today, we get to join in on the fun. Tucked around the corner from the Ski Patrol room, we huddle together at the base of the mountain – each of us taking notes, photos, and videos of Ruddy in the cave.
I look out at the ski lift where skiers brave the harsh conditions for the thrill of the ride. Ruddy practices again and again. His gaze is set on Alex, attentive and eager for his next command.
Alex, in his fifth season as a snow patroller, leads Ruddy with a calm confidence. A few months ago, he found Ruddy on a ranch in Idaho and brought him to Bend, Oregon to train.
When asked what it’s like to have Ruddy as a coworker, Alex smiles and says, “It's amazing. I never imagined I would bring my own dog to work with me and be able to hang out with him all day. It’s been pretty special already, and I've only had him for just a few months.”
Avy Dog Training Phases
Mt. Bachelor uses the Swiss Guidelines for avalanche dog training, breaking training up into 4 phases. Ruddy is currently in Phase 1. Alex’s goal is to have him fully trained after two seasons.
Phase 1 is all about getting Ruddy used to the mountain – exposing him to snowmobiles, chairlifts, skiers, and snowboarders. Ruddy is also working on fetching a toy that’s thrown into an open snow cave. Trainers use toys to incentivize and reward dogs as they search for humans.
In the next phases of his training, Ruddy will work on digging someone out of a covered snow cave. Finally, he’ll engage in a blind search in which he has to discover where the cave is located.
During a break, I pull my gloves off to take notes, and my fingers start to go numb. Ruddy trots over to me – tail wagging and caboose wiggling. He makes a few rounds of cuddles then plunges himself into the snow, rolling around in delight.
As soon as Alex calls him over, Ruddy snaps back into working mode – alert and focused.
Ruddy has been practicing riding up the mountain with Alex on a snowmobile. We stand at the ready – cameras and notes in hand – as Ruddy crouches down, about to jump.
Border Collies are known for their impressive jumping skills – and Ruddy is no exception. He leaps high onto the seat while Alex assists him with the handle of Ruffwear’s Web Master™ Dog Harness. Alex joins him and Ruddy moves onto his lap, secure and ready to speed off.
Alex shares how important the Web Master Harness is in Ruddy’s training, “We use the Web Master Harness everyday. It's got this nice handle here so if you miss loads on a chairlift, it’s easy to yank him up there. It also keeps him nice and visible for people to see and not run into him. It keeps him warm and protected, so it’s a great piece of uniform.”
Our Photographer, Elena, and Community Manager, Dani, trudge through soft snow – their legs plummeting deep – as they follow Ruddy and Alex to the chairlift.
Ruddy awaits Alex’s command and then jumps onto the chairlift on his own. He lays down and waits for the chair to swing around so Alex can join him.
Alex shares, “The first time I took him on a chairlift he was only 10 weeks old, and I just held him the whole time. We've slowly been moving into him loading by himself, which he is getting better and better at every day.
Basically, slow baby steps and keep the chair moving really slowly, get him up there, give him a treat, praise him and then eventually he'll want to get up there before I even send him out there. But hopefully I’ll be able to keep him by my side until he’s ready.”
Warming Up in the Ski Patrol Room
After Ruddy sprints down the mountain with Alex skiing close behind, we all meet back at the Ski Patrol room. With a deluge of snow clouding our goggles, we are happy to enter the room’s warmth.
Gear dangles from hooks on the red walls, toys lay scattered across the floor. Two sweet golden retrievers (and fellow avalanche dogs), Shasta and Banyan, nuzzle up to us. Shasta rolls over on her back and enjoys 10 minutes of scratches from me, her eyes closing as she stretches out lazily.
This time, Ruddy is more interested in the ball than cuddles. He bounds over to me and drops the ball on Shasta’s face. I give the ball my best throw, and he chases after it with speed and precision.
Chatting with Alex Sypek
Our Videographer, Drew, signals that he’s ready to go. I settle in for the interview. Alex pulls up a red plastic chair, and Ruddy jumps onto his lap and fixes his eyes on mine – attentive and ready to begin.
Ruffwear: What is it about Ruddy that makes him a prime candidate to be an avy dog?
Alex: I think something great about him is that, being a Border Collie, he's super athletic. Being able to run him all over the mountain without him getting too tired is great. He's also very nimble, so getting on the chairlift is pretty easy for him – at least now in the early stages. He's also very obedient, so I think he’s going to do pretty well.
RW: Yes, he seems like a perfect fit! Are there any challenges of working with a young puppy on the ski slopes?
A: Sure. Him being young, he’s still very curious about everything so trying to wrangle him and keep him close is the biggest challenge. Then again, being so young he's pretty nervous still around some things like snowmobiles, but it's amazing to see him make leaps and bounds every day getting him used to it all.
RW: For sure. Ruddy is adorable, so does he draw a lot of attention around the mountain and can that be a distraction?
A: Oh yeah, not only Ruddy, all the dogs we have up here definitely get a lot of attention from skiers and snowboarders. Everyone’s constantly hootin’ and hollerin’, taking photos of them, and trying to pet them. That can be a challenge in itself to keep him away from the masses.
RW: Definitely, and what are some tips for the public when interacting with avy dogs? Are there any rules or safety tips they should follow?
A: Sure. Basically, the biggest thing is that it's like any dog that’s in uniform. If it runs up to you, don't immediately pet it. If it's with a handler, you can ask to pet the dog. But when these dogs are up here dressed in their uniforms they are working dogs just like if you would see a seeing eye dog out in town, so definitely approach them as if they're working.
RW: That makes sense. What do you love most about Ruddy or what makes Ruddy unique?
A: What I love most about him as a puppy is that he's been very obedient in his young days, so he’s been pretty unique to handle so far. I do like his little spot on his nose, too. I think that sets him apart a little bit.
In Good Paws
Reluctantly, we say our goodbyes to these lovable canine heroes. As we wait for the shuttle, we reminisce about Ruddy’s high-energy spirit and attentive obedience. We can’t wait to see how he progresses in his training. While we hope to never need assistance on the mountain, we’d trust Ruddy to save the day.