Aspen History: Dog days of winter
“The avalanche dog is back on the slopes,” announced The Aspen Times on Jan. 27, 1983. “Chopper is a two-year-old black lab and golden retriever mix, with intelligent eyes and a willingness to learn. He has been with Highlands ski patrolman Chris Kessler since he was a puppy barely five weeks old. Kessler is convinced that the long and consistent bond has aided in Chopper’s training. At first the training was a game for Chopper — although Kessler knew better. Kessler, 26, is a native of Aspen, and has served on the Highlands patrol for five years, working as a Highlands ski instructor before that. So Chopper is familiar with the territory. The dog responds to hand and voice signals issued by his trainers. ‘Seek,’ to Chopper, means a chance to do what he enjoys most. The avalanche dog experiment has so far proved so successful that the Highlands patrol is contemplating training another dog as a backup. As Kessler pointed out, given the peculiar snow conditions of this winter, avalanche hazard could be higher than usual. And while they hope they never have to call Chopper to duty — he’s ready when they are.” The image above shows Chopper the avalanche dog finding Highlands patrolman Art Smythe during training, 1983.
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