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Fjord's Mountain Mission: Snow specialist from Bishop's Stortford pens tribute to her alpine search and rescue dog



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A mountain search and rescue specialist who was born in Bishop's Stortford has written a safety guide for children, inspired by her adventures with her canine companion Fjord.

Caroline Elliott, now 50, was a pupil at Northgate Primary School and then Herts and Essex High School.

Her father, Chris, ran construction company JA Elliott & Sons in the town before he moved to France, where he now spends his time writing about trains. Mum Joan lives at The Grange care home in Newport, near Saffron Walden.

Caroline was first enticed into the "winter wonderland" as a 10-year-old girl on a family ski trip to Méribel in the French Alps and found she was a natural. Her passion has taken her on adventures around the world.

She headed to Europe to study German in Munich on leaving school. After returning to the UK to complete her degree in Spanish and German in London, she was drawn back to the mountains in France and a job looking after the country's military during their Alpine competitions.

She then spent two years in Australia. Her adventures down under included working as a jillaroo – a female novice on a cattle station or sheep station – in the bush, but the mountains were still calling and she took advantage of snow in the southern hemisphere in June and July.

Caroline and Fjord spent virtually 10 years living and working together
Caroline and Fjord spent virtually 10 years living and working together

"I channelled my energies into becoming a ski patroller," said Caroline. "My ease on skis helped me progress quickly and my fascination in this area of work made learning a pleasure. I completed my first training in Thredbo [a ski resort in New South Wales] in the Australian Alps.

"I soon realised upon my return to Europe that my diplomas with the kangaroos weren't going to stand up against 'le coq français' and the qualification would not be recognised in France."

From 2007, Caroline completed a series of exams, culminating in a course in 2011 at the Ecole Nationale de Ski et d'Alpinisme in Chamonix to gain the pisteur secouriste 2éme degré.

All along, she enriched her knowledge via parallel courses with Météo France to study the weather systems and snow environment, along with a qualification to detonate potential snow masses as an artificier with the Association Nationale Etude Neige et Avalanches.

Fjord and Caroline in action (53908797)
Fjord and Caroline in action (53908797)

"However, the crème de la crème of moments has to be when I entered the fire and rescue mountain rescue unit to become a search and rescue dog handler in 2010 with Fjord, my French flat-coated retriever."

He was her faithful companion from the moment she picked him up, aged just seven weeks, from a breeder in north-east France. Appropriately, their first meeting was during a snowstorm.

Like Caroline, Fjord was a fast learner and passed his own exams when he was two. She said: "I trained him with guidance from my trainer and colleagues in the specialist SAR (search and rescue) dog unit with fire and rescue in France."

Fjord was Caroline's faithful companion from the moment she picked him up as a seven-week-old puppy from a breeder
Fjord was Caroline's faithful companion from the moment she picked him up as a seven-week-old puppy from a breeder

They worked and lived together in the Pyrénées and were inseparable until Fjord died in 2020.

Caroline said: "He was very much a pet too; the bond was fusional, hence the loss was immense when he passed away just before lockdown.

"Fjord was mischievous, faithful, stubborn yet sensitive and incredibly affectionate," said Caroline
"Fjord was mischievous, faithful, stubborn yet sensitive and incredibly affectionate," said Caroline

"I now have a beautiful female called Källa, who will hopefully have Fjord's puppies in the next couple of years.

"Fjord was mischievous, faithful, stubborn yet sensitive, incredibly affectionate and had a penchant for eating socks – hence his death, silly boy.

"He loved eating bananas and used to drool when I peeled an orange. I also caught him a couple of times with his nose in my pint of beer! He also stole once three tightly-packed French saucisson from the kitchen top."

His loss prompted Caroline to write Fjord's Mountain Mission.

"After Fjord's death and under lockdown guidelines, I had a lot of time on my hands and the seed was planted," she said. "I put together all the little anecdotes of Fjord funnies and the story started to take form. I wanted to honour the incredible work Fjord did, especially continuing to educate youngsters as we did in the Pyrénées.

Fjord with Caroline on a French mountain search and rescue exercise
Fjord with Caroline on a French mountain search and rescue exercise

"I feel it's important that children are introduced to the mountain before they even arrive. With this book, they can learn all about a winter resort from the comfort of their home before they head for the trip. The result will hopefully be that they will have fewer accidents and enjoy their trip even more, removing any fears or anxiety about their week in the snow.

"It's a true story with real-life characters and quite enchanting, teaching children and parents alike the safety knowledge they will need for such a trip.

"My illustrator, Evgenia Malina, has so beautifully brought Fjord to life through the pages. Fjord talks us through his day up the hill, ending in an avalanche rescue, which is a true story... a four-year-old girl being rescued thanks to the dog team."

As someone who has defied stereotypes, Caroline hopes the book – which is also available in French and German and will be available in languages including Spanish, Italian and Japanese next year – will inspire and empower young girls with a sense of adventure to tackle a role generally taken by males.

The FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski) and FIPS (Fédération Internationale des Patrouilles de Ski) support the book and are promoting it worldwide.

Fjord with Caroline on a French mountain SAR helicopter
Fjord with Caroline on a French mountain SAR helicopter

Caroline, who is currently training with the North West Ambulance Service in Cumbria so she can be closer to her mum, intends to return to France some day.

But meanwhile, her new-found love of writing means more stories will be told, including a series of picture books for toddlers.

* Fjord's Mountain Mission is available for £14.99 and can be ordered online from Waterstones.

Caroline's book about Fjord (53908809)
Caroline's book about Fjord (53908809)


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