It all began in 1978 when Bruce Watt, a Professional Patroller on Whistler Mountain got caught in a large post control avalanche. He was buried along with a visiting patroller from Snowbird.
Later that year, Bruce was encouraged by Chris Stethem, the Safety Supervisor on Whistler Mountain at the time, to pursue an avalanche rescue dog training program. Chris suggested that Bruce investigate the possibility of training with the RCMP and Parks Canada. Bruce received permission and great support from the Garibaldi Lift Company (GLC), Peter Alder, Roger McCarthy and Franz Wilhelmsen, the founder and president of the GLC.
Through the avalanche forecasting network at the time, Bruce discovered that there was another patroller in Fernie, BC named Rod Pendlebury that had been training a dog. Bruce and Rod started to communicate in 1979 and planed a get together to compare notes and help each other with their challenges. That year there was a BCIT avalanche forecasting course being held at Red Mountain so they decided to hold a dog training course there the week after the avalanche forecasting course. The very first RCMP Avalanche Dog Master, named Dale Marino, who recovered the bodies in the Harmony Horseshoe avalanche on Whistler in 1972, was asked to help out and review the training program. The RCMP allowed Dale to attend in an official capacity to evaluate the dogs and handlers. This was important because the RCMP had the official mandate to direct all missing person searches in the entire country. There were four dog handlers at this very first course and it was a great success.
As the years went by, both Bruce and Rod encouraged others to get involved in the training of rescue dogs. They planned and developed backcountry and ski area courses and invited other RCMP and Parks Canada Dog handlers to attend. This proved to be a great time to get together and exchange ideas.
The RCMP had concerns as to how to make sure all avalanche dog teams were adequately trained, examined and validated. Staff Sergeant Doug Wiebe of E Division dog section asked that the group set up their own organization to train and validate the dog and handler teams. The RCMP would attend and instruct and Parks Canada or a certified mountain guide would assess the handlers mountaineering skills. The group was to set up courses and form an organization to carry out the programs. They began this long process and continued fine tuning the training manual. They consulted the Search and Rescue ground search criteria and the RCMP dog training manual. They drafted the manual slowly and cautiously and eventually got the Provincial Emergency Program (PEP) on board adopting the standards and procedures.
The Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association, a non-profit volunteer organization was formed in 1982. They elected the first board of directors, organized courses, and went looking for sponsorships for equipment and uniforms.
During the next few years CARDA formed an alliance with the Bergwacht (German Mountain Rescue Group) and through exchanges, adopted some of their training methods for validating avalanche dog teams.
Over the years there have been many callouts, some successful some tragic. One of the most exciting events to happen in CARDA’s history took place on December 19th , 2000 at Fernie Ski Resort. CARDA TEAM Robin Siggers and his dog Keno carried out and recorded the first live recovery in Canadian history. This successful mission validated CARDA’s purpose, making all the dedication and hard work of all the members and supporters worthwhile and proving that rescue dogs save lives.
It took many years but they did it.