Dog Days In The Snow | Photographing The UK’s Ski Touring Mountain Dogs

Adventures with Scotland and England's snow dogs (and their snow-loving owners)

Featured image credit: Hannah Bailey

They’re best friends to humans, both on and off the snow, and if you tour around the Cairngorms you may have spotted them on the hill. Zig-zagging their way up the tracks in packs, charging down the Ciste Gully or Head Wall, traversing the windy ridge or dropping down Coire Raibert, they’ll have been barking mad for Scottish snow and on the hunt for PAWder (sorry). I am, of course, talking about dogs; adventure-loving mountain dogs.

“They’re best friends to humans, both on and off the snow”

Over the past two seasons, I’ve spied these smile-inducing ski touring dogs on the hills enjoying it as much as the humans themselves. Some dogs, of course, are purely out there in a recreational sense but there are also specially trained canines that are part of SARDA Scotland (Search and Rescue Dog Association) or Mountain Rescue Search Dogs England. Both are charities, running alongside the Mountain Rescue Teams around the UK, that train dogs and their handlers to search for missing people. They are 100% volunteer run and are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to help save lives in the big outdoors.

I’ve spent some time photographing and documenting some of the characters you might meet on the hill. Some of them are ski touring dogs, some of them are rescue-making dogs; all of them are absolute legends (AKA top dogs).

Credit: Hannah Bailey
Credit: Hannah Bailey
Credit: Hannah Bailey

Charlie with Martin Searle

Martin is a former Outdoor Guide and long-term member of Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team.

“Charlie has had two ski touring seasons. He was just over a year old for his first, but soon learntto run along with the skis instead of in front of them. He is a short-coated dog so he feels thecold. We always have a coat for him and as long he is warm he is super happy on the hills. He loves snow. Pointers have huge, slightly webbed, feet so are great in water and on snow and they just love to run. Alongside a bike, person or skis, he is happy!”

Credit: Hannah Bailey

Meg with Alison Smith

Alison is a trained handler for SARDA.

“Meg is a four-year-old border collie. She’s a trained Search and Rescue Dog who enjoys being outside in any weather, especially when there is snow about. She has been out ski touring during the last couple of winters, and she loves diving into the snow head first and rolling over and over covering herself in snow. She’s a happy snow dog!”

Credit: Hannah Bailey

Yogi with Jonny Barr

Jonny is the founder of UpBattle Splitboarding.

“Yogi started out in the snowy mountains when he was just two with me and his brother Jakewho also loves splitboarding. As long as we keep him covered with a coat the snow doesn’t ball up on him, so he’s happy to play and jump about doing his thing. He stays quite close and is a bit of a dafty, so you have to watch him and not shred off too fast. What makes him a good touring dog? Just look at him, you cannae leave him at home when he can be out having a blast with us.”

Credit: Hannah Bailey

Bailey, Ice and Cubes with Nicola Tannahill

Nicola is the owner of Aviemore Ski School.

“Bailey was born to be a snow dog. She hates the heat so can’t get enough of the snow. She is in her element when the flakes start to fall, and loves digging and breaking trail. Her favourite thingto do though is catching snowballs. Ice and Cube also tour, but it’s Bailey who leads the pack.”

Credit: Hannah Bailey

Strugi with Colin Matthew

Colin is the Head ofTechnical Operations at Cairngorm Mountain.

“When I go out on the hill with Strugi, he is always under very close control or on a leash. With his fluro jacket he is very visible, and the hope is it demonstrates how to keep your dog safe and under control when in and around a busy ski area.”

Credit: Hannah Bailey

Yan with Davie and Sally Clark

Davie and Sally are ski touring enthusiasts

“Yan is a Springer Spaniel who loves leaping through powder snow. He has built up his fitness for ski tours by walking the Wainwrights in the Lake District. At six months of age he had his first foray into ski touring on the Pennines at Yad Moss. Yan’s humans have trained him to behave off lead and he is trustworthy around people, dogs and livestock. All this experience has prepared him for a fantastic backcountry and piste season in Scotland.”

Credit: Hannah Bailey

Lesley McKenna with Taffy

Lesley is a three-time Olympic snowboarder, and founder of Wandering Workshops.

“Taffy is a wonderful touring companion. As a cross she has a bit of husky, a bit of collie, a bit of greyhound and a bit of staffie and it seems to be a really great mix for a mountain dog. She can run and run, really loves playing in the snow, and can go all day no problem at all. She likes to run behind me when I ride down and usually follows in my tracks, although she gets excited when she hasn’t seen snow for a while and likes to make her own tracks too. The only thing she doesn’t like so much is high winds but I am kind of with her on that one!”

Credit: Hannah Bailey
Credit: Hannah Bailey
Credit: Hannah Bailey

Paw Patrol

Here’s some shots of the team from Mountain Rescue Search Dogs England. They’re a really good crew. I came across them in February, while shooting ay Ciste Gully. I heard the sound of dogs barking excitedly, with the sound seeming to be coming from a snow patch below the car park. Sticking my head over, I was surprised to see a session being carried out with the trainee dogs. The team invited me to photograph what was happening, and meet the hounds. You can read about their work, and support them with donations if you’re feeling generous, with the help of the internet. Head to the SARDA Scotland and Mountain Rescue Search Dogs England websites for further information.

“The human scent becomes very concentrated in the snow hole”

“Our focus for this training session was on a burial training. We were teaching the dogs to dig into snow holes where they have detected a human scent. All of the dogs seem to really enjoy this type of training as the human scent becomes very concentrated in the snow hole” – Rachael Gatehouse, who works with trainee rescue dog Tarn.

Pictured: Tarn & Rachael Gatehouse. Credit: Hannah Bailey
Pictured: Ebba & Ian Bunting. Credit: Hannah Bailey
Pictured: Rona & Freya with Pete Thomson
Pictured: Bramble & Andrew Jenkins. Credit: Hannah Bailey
Pictured: Blyth & Paul Aitken-Fell. Credit: Hannah Bailey
Credit: Hannah Bailey

This article first appeared in Issue 3 of the Mpora print magazine.

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