White Pass Ski Patrol Makes a Friend in ‘Uzi’ the Avalanche Cat


An avalanche dog, or “avy dog,” is a service animal trained to search for and rescue people trapped in snow.

But an avy cat? Their greatest service to ski patrol is companionship.

In 2018, White Pass Ski Patrol was joined by Maverick, the avy German shepherd.

Now, patrollers have made a great friend in “Uzi,” their young avy cat who occupies a ski patrol dispatch hut one chairlift ride up from the White Pass Ski Area main lodge.

Originally a barn cat, the affectionate gray kitten lives in the hut full time, spending most of the day in the windowsill watching skiers and snowboarders pass by. At night, the cat is secured inside to deter hawks and coyotes. Uzi also frequently  ventures out into the snow when it is warm enough.

On Sunday, volunteer patroller Micheal Murphy, or “Murph” as he’s known on the mountain, took The Chronicle up the lift to meet Uzi the cat and get a glimpse into the life of ski patrol, followed by a demonstration of his “head on a swivel” method of patrolling as he enjoys the slopes.

On the ride up, a stranger talked about his son sustaining a spiral fracture to his femur while skiing two weeks prior. Murph was on the rescue team. The father said his boy is doing well.

Uzi the cat may not be genuinely trained to rescue avalanche victims, but volunteer and professional ski patrollers see some pretty gnarly accidents, so the emotional support of a furry companion is valuable. Also, Uzi is a proficient mouse catcher, which has so far come in handy to protect gear from rodents.

Volunteers said Uzi has been spoiled as a pet, with lots of affectionate scratches and gifts including a ski patrol vest, which the cat hates wearing, and a feline-sized toboggan.

But ski patrollers get into the job with or without the promise of a comforting cat — Uzi, after all, has only been in the hut for this season and is still acclimating to life in the snow — they do it for the camaraderie and the value of being there to help.

Murph said he doesn’t spend a single day on the mountain without tending to someone in an accident.

Some days, he responds to over 20 incidents. 

“You actually make a difference. And sometimes, there are the rare times that we actually get a save. If we weren’t here, somebody would have passed. I don’t know, one of those every couple years or something,” he said, adding later: “The thing I enjoy most is when we're involved in an accident and somebody says ‘Hey, thanks a lot,’ and I'm able to say, ‘that's what we're here for.’”

After getting his patrol start with an auxiliary Mount Rainier rescue team, Murph has been at White Pass for around 25 years. He’s one of the most tenured volunteers there, and was chosen as the representative for Uzi not because he’s the cat’s only caretaker, but because he is “a great guy to work with,” his colleagues said.

“The way we work it is we try to keep people out skiing around all the time. Some (ski) areas will have people staged up here just waiting around,” Murph said.

“We want people skiing.”

Murph spends his days running the “front side” of the ski area, he said. The “back side” is the most recently added, and he said there is some friendly rivalry between patrollers who frequent the two areas.

Murph, who has traveled all over the world for nonprofit work, said his way of dealing with this rivalry is to pretend the “back side” and its patrol area “base three” simply do not exist.

“I’ve been on this quest traveling in China and Nepal and Honduras, wherever it is, looking for base three,” he said. “There was consideration of stationing Uzi at base three until it was discovered base three doesn’t exist.”

For more pictures and updates about Uzi, follow the White Pass Ski Area Facebook page, @SkiWhitePass.


Reporter Isabel Vander Stoep can be reached by email at isabel@chronline.com.