While rare, it’s not unheard of for adrenaline-fueled bears to chase after skiers on the slopes or out in the backcountry.
Recent video of a bear charging through skiers on the slopes of a California resort has some Wyoming outdoorsmen experienced with recreating in bear country advising the best course of action if a bear crashes your ski outing is to pile on the speed.
And it doesn’t hurt knocking somebody else down in the process, joked a former Wyoming ski and snowboard instructor.
If confronted by a rampaging bear on the slopes, “I would simply ski as fast as I could to get out of harm’s way as soon as possible,” noted outdoorsman Paul Ulrich of Pinedale told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.
“If you get some decent speed, you might be able to outpace a bear. Bears are incredibly fast, but if you’ve got a steep hill, you could get to 70 mph and blow him away," Ulrich said.
Don’t think it couldn’t happen. A skier missed getting in the path of a galloping black bear’s chunky butt by mere inches Sunday in Lake Tahoe and caught the wild encounter on video.
Wildlife biologists say that although bears are typically snoozing by the time the snow piles up to skiing depth, a few bears might still venture out during the winter.
Close Encounter Of The Bear Kind
In the video, the skier initially spots the bear lurking alongside an open slope at Heavenly Ski Resort near South Lake Tahoe.
At first, the bear seems confused about what to do, but then starts barreling across the slope into the paths of skiers and snowboarders.
The skier taking the video utters an expletive when it seems apparent that he and the bear are on a collision course. But the bear manages to just barely avoid him before barging past other skiers and down the far side of the slope.
Use A Friend As Bear Bait
Ulrich said he’s never found himself in such a predicament. But if he did, he said the natural law of every man for himself would probably kick in, and the best tactic could be to find somebody else to distract the bear.
“I’ve never been chased by a bear on skis before so this is all speculation, of course, but one thing you could do if the bear is really aggressive: Find another skier and purposely drive them into the snow,” Ulrich said. “The bear will likely quit following you and just attack that poor sap.
“I’m not saying that’s the best advice, but sometimes there are no good choices. I would try to find someone who was particularly slow if that’s my only option.”
Ulrich even has a particular person in mind should a bear ever show up on the Wyoming slopes.
“Like Jonathan Downing, for example,” he said, mentioning his old friend who is a well-known lobbyist in Wyoming. “I would hope I could spot Jonathan on the slopes and trip him.”
Winter Bears Rare, But Not Impossible
Cowboy State Daily has been told by wildlife biologists that winter bear encounters are extremely rare, but not unheard of.
The good news is, Wyoming grizzly bears are smart enough to avoid places where people might annoy them during the winter. So, they’re far less likely to show up on ski slopes than the California black bear was.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department large carnivore specialist Dan Thompson said that “grizzlies especially tend to be in higher altitudes and away from any human activities” when denning for the winter.
That was echoed by Jennifer Fortin-Noreus, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife grizzly bear biologist with the University of Montana’s grizzly bear recovery program.
“Remember that most bears den at very high elevation on steep slopes, so the likelihood of encounter is rare, but they have been seen by backcountry skiers, snowmobilers, etc.,” she said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.