Feature Story

Meet Delphin, Sun Peaks’ new avalanche dog

How this 5-year-old vizsla spends her days on the slopes
 | February 2, 2022
Photo by Jalapeno Vision.

This year, Sun Peaks Resort LLP’s (SPR) snow safety team has a pup-ular new addition stealing hearts all over the mountain: avalanche dog Delphin.

Delphin, a 5-year-old vizsla, is a National Search Dog Association (NSDA) certified avalanche dog. She’s also trained in bomb detection and water searches— and has even helped track down stolen gemstones. 

Karsten von Hoesslin, Delphin’s owner and handler, said the pup holds the second best validation time in the history of the NSDA. She is trained to detect blood, sweat, saliva, breath, human remains and skin rafts in snow, which can help find someone in an emergency. 

“We’ll take four or five drops of blood, put it on a napkin, and then we’ll bury it about a foot deep on a ski run and let everyone ski on it throughout the day,” von Hoesslin said. “Delphin can [still find] those four drops of blood.”

Photo by Kyle Sanguin.

Von Hoesslin works as an avalanche forecaster for SPR, as well as a ski guide at Keefer Lake Lodge in Cherryville, B.C., where Delphin is also a part of the snow safety team. In the summer von Hoesslin teaches technical rescue, which includes swiftwater, medical and rope training, and said Delphin helps out on the rivers as well.

At SPR, after von Hoesslin checks the weather on the mountain in the morning, the duo ride the Sunburst Express Chairlift and make their way to Crystal Bowl or the Top of the World.

“She’s got her little doggie sleeping blanket,” said von Hoesslin. “Then she basically just hangs out there for the day. It’s also a good spot in the event that we do have an incident.”

It’s rare for a dog to actually rescue someone from an avalanche, but Von Hoesslin said they can be useful for a number of other reasons.

“It’s not just about, ‘is there going to be an avalanche at Sun Peaks and does the dog then respond?’” said von Hoesslin. “It’s, ‘what if you have lost gear or a missing person or somebody who potentially is in a tree?’ Well, dogs can help for all those reasons.”

Von Hoesslin adopted Delphin in 2015 while living in Europe. He said he waited until she was two years old and fully developed before beginning to train her.

Von Hoesslin said waiting for Delphin to mature also helped him train her to search for more than one particular source, and helped Delphin better understand what exactly she’s looking for.

“We’ve used currency, we use drugs, we’ve used all sorts of things you can imprint a dog on,” von Hoesslin said. “I even had someone get their iPhone and go bury it, and she found it based on the scent. So once the dog’s older, [training is] a lot more effective.”

When Delphin was ready, von Hoesslin began training her in Switzerland and France. When he moved back to Canada in 2018, the duo continued to train until she was ready to begin official avalanche work in 2019.

“She’s just been a great dog. I’ve been really lucky with her on all sides of work,” said von Hoesslin. “She’s kind of become, you know, a bit of a sidekick throughout the entire year.”

Von Hoesslin said it’s also important to him that Delphin gets the opportunity to relax and just be a dog, even sometimes while she’s working.

“I know that I can still trust her and she’ll still do her job even if she gets pet by other people. Some people look at that and go oh, that’s so lax,” he said. “But if you trust your dog […] it will do the job.”

To follow along with Delphin and von Hoesslin’s adventures, find them on Instagram @adventure.vizsla. 

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