ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A bear mauling that left a man with injuries to his face and hands happened when his skiing group accidentally encountered a den with a mother bear and her cub in Southeast Alaska.
One of three skiers was injured and taken to a hospital by the U.S. Coast Guard after the bear attack on Saturday, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
The man was hospitalized in stable condition in Anchorage on Monday, Alaska State Troopers said.
The three men were backcountry skiing on the south side of Chilkoot Lake about 10 miles (16 kilometers) northwest of the community of Haines, said Joe Wineke, command center watchstander for Coast Guard District 17.
The skiers were going up a mountain when they stumbled across the brown bear den at an elevation of about 1,600 feet (488 meters), said Carl Koch, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game management biologist.
“The third guy sees the snow blow open and fur coming at him,” Koch said. “He’s the one that got hurt.”
The group saw more than one bear in the den, which Koch said was believed to be a sow with her cub.
The skier rolled down the hill during the attack, at one point playing dead. The bear ran away, Koch said.
The men called for help using a satellite communication device that also provided their GPS location coordinates.
A five-person Coast Guard crew from Sitka arrived in a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and lowered a crew member to evaluate the injured skier before hoisting him into the helicopter, the Coast Guard said.
The man was not identified by officials, who said he was initially taken to Juneau and hospitalized. He was alert and talking during the rescue, the Coast Guard said.
The other two skiers did not need help and went down the mountain on their own, the Coast Guard said.
Koch said it is a common misconception that bears are in full hibernation during the winter. Bears enter a state called torpor in which they slow down body functions to preserve energy and stay warm through the winter.
Torpor is less intense than hibernation, and Koch said bears can wake up and leave the den before returning to torpor.
Bears can also wake up in response to disturbances and bear attacks happen during the winter, but are not common, Koch said.
Saturday’s bear attack is still under investigation by wildlife biologists and troopers.