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Snowbird's Avalanche Dogs & Marguerite Van Komen

Salt of the Earth - The People and Places of Salt Lake

Tuesday February 9, 2021
By Sean Buckley

Marguerite Van Komen is a ski patroller and avalanche professional at Snowbird, and her partner, Frankie, is a black lab avalanche rescue dog. As a part of the incredible team of patrollers and avy dogs that help to protect those who enjoy gorgeous Little Cottonwood Canyon, they spend their days continually training, patrolling, and having fun together when they're not out on rescues. This episode of Salt of the Earth takes a look at what it's like day-to-day when your job is to help people in one of the most beautiful mountain destinations in the world.

Marguerite was born and raised under the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains, and she grew up loving the outdoors. She has spent the last 22 years of her career at Snowbird, where she became an avalanche professional in 2005. Little Cottonwood Canyon is considered by many to be the birthplace of avalanche science in the United States. Marguerite also joined Wasatch Backcountry Rescue in 2005, and eventually became a member of their board of trustees, and helps to facilitate training and certification of all the rescue dogs like Frankie in the Wasatch.

Frankie was chosen by Marguerite as a puppy - and the qualifications she looks for in a new dog are pretty specific. Once the puppy is picked, the work begins. Training is rigorous and continual. Dog and trainer are pretty much joined at the hip. While the training is serious and important, Frankie looks at training time as fun. As an avalanche dog becomes more proficient in searching for and finding someone buried in the snow, a single dog can search an entire snow field in a few minutes, which would take a team of patrollers many times that. Frankie has, in fact, attained the highest certification level for avalanche work here in the Wasatch Front: a Level A certification. Frankie is qualified to not only search within the bounds of Snowbird but also the surrounding backcountry.

For Marguerite and Frankie, Snowbird is more than a mountain resort or a place to ski - its people (and other canines) have become family. And Salt Lake with all its outdoor recreation and amenities, is truly home. 

If you haven't been to Snowbird, it's easy to try with the Ski City Super Pass. We're thankful to Snowbird, Marguerite, and Frankie to feature them in this installment of Visit Salt Lake’s Salt of the Earth series.