If you happen to hear a chorus of teenage girls “Awwwww!-ing” as you disembark from the Centennial Express Lift this winter—unless you’re one of the Bangtan Boys—you’re probably in the vicinity of Willy, a floppy-eared golden retriever pup who’s earned rock-star status as Beaver Creek’s first-ever Mountain Safety Dog. Not to be confused with the celebrated packs of avy dogs frequently found romping in the snow outside Ski Patrol Headquarters (the most famous being Henry, Vail Mountain’s first avalanche rescue dog, who launched his own wine label two summers ago; henrywines.co), Willy won’t be trained to sniff out skiers trapped under the snow. As the canine equivalent of the resort’s volunteer army of red-coated mountain hosts, he’ll be working alongside his handler, Beaver Creek Mountain Safety Manager Mark Carll, who brought him home from Golden Retriever Rescue of the Rockies as a nearly 3-month-old pup. Earning a salary of belly rubs and Milk-Bones, Willy will spend each day patrolling the top of Centennial and the Slow Zone on beginner run “Gold Dust” and making big eyes at resort guests in the ski yard during Cookie Time, courting a captive audience for impromptu lectures about yielding to uphill traffic and the consequences of ducking a rope.
Willy’s curriculum vitae?
“We went through puppy preschool with Mark Ruark in Edwards (markruarkdogtraining.com), which built a great foundation for his training,” says Carll. “Right now, we are working on the obedience skills needed to be nationally certified as a therapy dog, [and] proper socialization is a big part of his training as he will be touched by thousands of people every day.” That means spending all day, every day practicing skills he’ll need to master to pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test, which includes basic commands like sit, down, stay, and come, along with proficiency in more difficult tasks he’ll need for the job—like heeling on a loose leash through crowds of boisterous kids and distractions like other dogs, greeting strangers, and sitting politely for a pat on the head. “Everyone wants to meet Willy!” Carll says, noting that he has little difficulty finding resort guests willing to help out with Willy’s training—a fact that’s fetching Beaver Creek’s newest on-mountain employee plenty of attention on social media, where a minute-long GoPro video introducing Willy to the world has been viewed nearly a half-million times on the resort’s Facebook page.