He was the first rescue personnel I saw after a wall of snow crashed on me. The first time I ever laid eyes on Chewy, I felt a burst of Hope. I thought I might actually survive. He was a good omen.
Two years passed from that day before I was formally introduced to Chewy. When I finally returned to the mountain I was asked if I’d like to meet the dog that rescued me.
We were introduced at the top of Chair 6 the “Cornice Express” chairlift at Kirkwood Mountain Resort.
It was an overcast February day. Chewy’s owner Fredrick and I were disembarking the chairlift and walking up the short hill to the Ski Patrol shack.
Lounging in the snow outside the shack was a Golden Retriever. He was a beautiful dog. He had that classic Golden look… the shaggy brownish goldish hair, the hairy paws, and the big dark nose.
“Do you remember this guy?” Fredrick asked Chewy.
Chewy sauntered over and sniffed me. He rubbed up against my leg, then looked around for someone to play with or a ski pole to chew on.
I kneeled down and started petting the guy. “Thanks Buddy.”
It was as if Chewy recognized me but was nonchalant about our initial introduction. It was as if he said, “It was no big deal. I was just doing my job.”
It was a big deal to me.
The trauma from the avalanche was so great that I began to question some of my memories of the experience. I thought I remembered seeing a dog, but I wasn’t sure. I thought it was a Golden Retriever, but I wasn’t sure. As time distanced me from the trauma I began to think that maybe I was dreaming and I’d fabricated seeing a dog come right up to my face. Maybe I had fabricated the wash of relief that came over me from seeing the rescue dog.
Now that I was finally there petting the guy that found me, I knew wasn’t making up memories. Chewy had charged into dangerous terrain that had just avalanched and could possibly slide again. He charged in with significant risk to himself.
He found me quickly and that is why I’m here today. I was stoked to meet him.
I loved that dog that I’d just met.
Chewy was as cool as they come. His favorite chew toy was a ski pole.
How cool is that?
He loved to be outside in the snow. He loved to ride up the chairlift.
And he loved to shred! Chewy was a better skier than me. Chewy could handle the rowdiest terrain at Kirkwood, which has an abundance of.
And everyone on the mountain loved him.
I got to know Chewy and Fredrick over the next few seasons.
It was always a privilege to me to get to spend time on the mountain with the two guys. I learned a lot from them and gained a tremendous amount of respect for the way they handle themselves in such a wild environment like Kirkwood.
Last season I asked around to see where Chewy was. I was told that he hadn’t been on the mountain for a few weeks because he had surgery for cancer.
I was stunned. Cancer is always scary.
I was informed that Chewy was ok, that he’d visited the mountain to say hello and would be back to work in a week or so.
The next time I skied at Kirkwood, I met Fredrick and Chewy at the base of Chair 10 or “The Wall”. Chair 10 goes to the top of the mountain. Every way down from Chair 10 is steep. Very steep. I figured if Chewy was good to go up The Wall, then me must be ok.
It was always special getting to ride the chairlift up with Chewy. There is a special procedure. The chairlift slows down. Chewy walks under Fredrick’s legs that are spread wide for the pooch. Everyone must be extra careful, the sharp edges of skis would hurt Chewy’s feet if there was accidental contact. That’s why he stays under Fredrick.
When the empty chair arrives Chewy hops on, lays down on all fours with his head looking forward. Fredrick took the seat left of him and I sat to the right.
It was amazing how calm Chewy was on the chairlift. He’d done it so many times, it was no big deal to him. No fear of heights. He was in his element and he loved it.
Fredrick told me how Chewy had cancer in his jaw and part of his jaw had to be removed. It took Chewy some time to recover, but he healed well and the cancer was gone. His tongue would flop out of the side where he had surgery.
I was surprised to find that Kirkwood has good health insurance for the avalanche dogs. All Chewy’s operations were covered.
When we disembarked from the Chair 10 at the top of the mountain Chewy was playful. He seemed like his old self with plenty of energy. He wasn’t allowed to chew on ski poles anymore because of the surgery, but other than that he seemed normal. He was ready to charge the mountain.
The three of us started down the top of The Wall. The top was icy and I had a hard time getting through the beginning section. Chewy dropped in effortlessly. He stopped 100 yards down the mountain, followed closely by Fredrick and waited for me.
It looked like a good shot with the two of them next to each other on the steep slope. I asked them to wait while I took a picture of them.
When I caught up to Chewy and Fredrick we resumed a leisurely cruise down the mountain. Chewy would zig-zag across the slope letting lose the occasional bark of joy.
Kirkwood was his playground and he loved it. I’ve never met someone that loved their job as much as Chewy. And it was his job. He was an avalanche rescue dog. It was his job to go into dangerous areas and look for avalanche victims. It was his job to be out in the weather even when the weather got nasty as it often does on that untamed mountain. It was his job, he loved it, and it did it well.
That ride was the last time I saw Chewy. He seemed healthy and strong. I thought I had many more visits with that cool character. I thought I had more time with him.
Even though I didn’t get to spend much time with Chewy he will always have a special place in my heart. I can’t describe how bad I felt after the avalanche. When I saw Chewy I got a little bit of Hope. Like if someone had reached out and grabbed my hand at the last possible moment before I fell into the abyss.
I couldn’t thank that dog enough.
I won’t be able to tell Chewy “Thank You” again because the cancer returned and flooded Chewy’s body. He held on and endured an incredible amount of pain. Now he is in a place where there is no pain.
I’m sad that Chewy is gone but I am grateful for the opportunity to have met him and spent time with such a heroic figure.