- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

RENO, Nev. (AP) - For people who love dogs and the Sierra Nevada backcountry, it’s tough to imagine a better day than what Don and Polly Triplat planned for last February.

The Truckee couple, two friends and their dog, Scarlet, would spend the day skiing, relaxing and enjoying the solitude and views at Lake Tahoe in the Third Creek area near Incline Village.

For the Triplats, both 45 years old and avid backcountry skiers trained in avalanche safety and wilderness first aid, ski outings with Scarlet and their other dog, Brodie, were rewarding for the whole family.

“It is absolutely a blast to watch your dog slide down a hill in front of you,” said Don Triplat, the executive director of the Sierra Avalanche Center.

The couple takes precautions with animals, such as separating them from the ski party while each person took turns, he said. On this trip, however, Scarlet managed to get herself in front of one of their skiing partners just as he was starting his descent. What happened next changed what the Triplats think about taking dogs on backcountry excursions.

Scarlet got entangled in their friend’s ski causing a tumble that left the skier unharmed but Scarlet with a deep gash in her front leg. The ski sliced through the dog’s skin, muscle and artery before reaching bone.

Many backcountry skiers who bring along their dogs are accustomed to seeing their canine friends get minor cuts from ski edges. Typically the cold air and snow is enough to slow the bleeding from such nicks although trips to the vet for stitches aren’t uncommon.

Scarlet’s injury was in no way minor.

“The scariest moment was seeing my dog spraying blood,” Don Triplat said, describing the wound that, without first aid, could have led to death.

Fortunately for Scarlet, her human companions sprung into live-saving action, clamping her artery to the bone and using gauze and duct tape from a first-aid kid as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.

But even after Scarlet was temporarily patched up, the group still faced the prospect of getting out of the backcountry and to a veterinarian hospital so she could get emergency surgery.

Don Triplat shed his pack so he could carry Scarlet on his shoulders. Another skier carried his gear, another broke trail so he could have an easier path and another skied ahead to recover and reposition their vehicle at the nearest place they could reach the road.

“The situation involved some very skilled rescue effort, a field tourniquet and a really bad ski out,” Don Triplat said. “A well-orchestrated rescue by (the group) saved my dog’s life.”

Polly Triplat said rather than panic when Scarlet got hurt the crew “just got to work” with the rescue.

The injury also opened the Triplats’ eyes to a question they, admittedly, hadn’t give much thought. Are people who take their dogs into the backcountry ready and able to rescue the animal should it be injured?

A photo of Scarlet in her post-surgery cast prompted some responses on the Sierra Avalanche Center’s Facebook page. Some suggested leaving pets at home, falling into the snow if skiers get too close to animals, or carrying emergency equipment.

The Triplats have stopped taking Scarlet on backcountry downhill trips, even though her leg is healed. Their other dog, Brodie, already retired from similar trips by the time the incident with Scarlet happened. The dogs still join them for mild, cross-country skiing excursions.

“Now I’m just scared of hurting them,” said Polly Triplat.

The couple also educates people on the responsibility involved in taking dogs on skiing trips. The Triplats said everyone in the group should be comfortable with the possibility of a rescue operation.

“Everybody loves it, everybody does it,” Don Triplat said. “I don’t find a lot of people well prepared and thinking about the potential problems.”


Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, https://www.rgj.com

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