Stevens Pass Avalanche Dogs

The idea of Avalanche rescue dogs digging around Stevens Pass first came up in 1991. At that time there were only about a dozen trained ‘avy dogs’ in the country. By ’93, our first pack of dogs, Denali, Bo and Chaser, were blazing a trail that many others would follow. Every winter since then, dedicated Ski Patrollers have committed to the challenge and reward of becoming a dog handler, adding to their regular ‘on hill’ chores the extra effort of training an avalanche rescue dog. Stevens Pass Ski Patrol has trained over 20 avalanche dogs since ’93, and today has a pack of 7 dogs in various stages of their career.

As a wee pup, and continuing until they are fully grown, a young avy dog will be socialized to the unique environment of a ski resort. They will be exposed to snowboarders and skiers, children and chair lifts, snowmobiles, and the ‘game’ of avalanche rescue. For these youngsters, the game starts with finding their owner/handlers in an open snow ‘hole’, where they are rewarded with a tasty morsel of sausage and tons of praise. For an avy dog, it’s all about the reward!
This is the first phase in our “4 Phase Progression” we adopted from the Swiss Alpine Club. Each phase is just a little bit more challenging (and involves a little bit more digging by the handler!) than the one before. It will take about 3 winters for a dog and handler to master the 4 Phases. When they’re ready, they will test their skills by searching for 2 buried people (in snow caves) and 3 buried backpack in a 100m x 100m in under 40 minutes.
Every other year since 2007, Stevens Pass Ski Patrol has hosted a 5 day ‘Swiss Dog School.’ 2 instructors from the Swiss Alpine Club travel from Switzerland to run 14 dog & handler teams from Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, and beyond, through their 4 Phase Progression. By the end of the school, tons of snow has been moved, and everyone is dog tired! If you see us training on the slopes, stop and say hi!

Avy dogs come to work every day with their handlers, and are ready to respond to an emergency inside or outside the ski area boundary. In the event of an avalanche, it is our priority to get a dog team to the site as quickly and safely as possible, along with other essential rescue equipment and personnel. Stevens Pass Avalanche Rescue Dogs is a member of the Back Country Avalanche Rescue K-9 (BARK) group, a statewide, non-profit, volunteer based mountain rescue organization of professional ski patrollers and avalanche rescue dogs. BARK teams from Stevens, Crystal, and Alpental train with local county SAR Sheriffs Deputies to respond via helicopter to remote avalanche accidents. These BARK teams are ready to respond 24/7 throughout the winter.

The Team


Dog: Josie
Breed: Chocolate Lab
Handler: Liz


Dog: Bailey
Breed: Black Lab
Handler: Angela


Dog: Scout
Breed: Black Lab
Handler: Dan

Chris and Zelda.jpeg

Dog: Zelda
Breed: German Sheppherd
Handler: Chris


Dog: Neva
Breed: Yellow Lab
Handler: Corey


Dog: Nason
Breed: Yellow Lab
Handler: Ryan A.


Dog: Olive
Breed: Black Lab
Handler: Tony

sahale updated

Dog: Sahale
Breed: Black Lab
Handler: Mike

Thank you to our Avalanche Dog sponsors:

Avalanche Dog Sponsors