Rescue dogs ready to help out after an avalanche

SEATTLE -- Avalanche danger is on the rise as record snow builds in the Cascades, and a rescue program on Stevens Pass is preparing for what could be a busy season.

A 12-week old black lab named Bailey and a 9-week old golden retriever named Maple are certainly cute, but that's not why the Stevens Pass ski patrol has the puppies.

Avalanches, mostly in the backcountry, kill an average of two people every year in Washington. Last year, a tragedy hit very close to home when three expert skiers with close ties to the Stevens Pass community died in a back country avalanche.

The incident helped inspire patroller Windy Leu to become an avalanche dog handler.

"What else as a patroller can I do to show my commitment and my support for this community," Leu said.

Stevens Pass ski patrol supervisor Chris Hunter said the eight dogs in his program are trained to find survivors buried in an avalanche. The reality is that most avalanche calls are recovery operations, which he said are equally important.

"As devastating as it is, every mom or dad wants their kids to come home no matter what happens," Hunter said.

The new puppies are being trained to replace the veteran rescue dogs, like 10-year-old Kava, who is close to retirement. It takes four years of work for the puppies to become certified.