An understanding of and education in bear safety is important when hiking or camping in the wilderness in and around Aspen/Snowmass. Stay Aspen Snowmass seeks to educate visitors to the area about how to properly manage bear and human encounters so that visitors feel comfortable when enjoying all the natural beauty Aspen/Snowmass has to offer this summer.
Bear recognition is a significant component of bear safety. The bears that live in the Aspen/Snowmass area are black bears, which on average are smaller than their Grizzly counterparts. Grizzly bears, also known as North American brown bears, have a large population in Alaska and Canada, and an increasing presence in Montana. It is important to understand that, although the bears in the area are referred to as black bears, their fur color is a range of lighter browns to deep blacks.
It is important to understand that contact with bears in Aspen/Snowmass can be avoided through simple precautions and actions that go a long way towards maintaining safety in the outdoors. Though hiking in the quiet and silence of the wilderness is quite peaceful, if there have been bear sitings in the area, such a practice of quiet hiking is not encouraged as it may lead to surprising a bear. Some hikers opt for wearing what is called a bear bell that they hang off of a backpack or the leash of their dog. Bear bells are an easy way to prevent a surprise encounter. Another helpful tip to avoid surprising a bear is to travel in groups. Hiking groups are usually louder, so in numbers, a surprise encounter can more easily be avoided. Depending on how the berry season is going, bears may or may not be on the hunt for human food. It is important to keep human food for humans only. Practice being a good camper by properly storing food and disposing of trash. When camping in the wilderness, do not keep food at the campsite, and this also includes toothpaste. Many campers store food in a tree using a rope. This food storage tactic involves a food sack that is hoisted high up into a tree using a rope. To be effective, the food sack must be far away from the campsite and ideally suspended high in the air between two trees. If camping near a car, secure the food overnight in the car with the doors locked. Bears have been known to break into cars when the doors are not locked. Once bears discover food in one location, such as a car, they will continue on the hunt, which may lead them to a camper's tent. It is easy to avoid a bear encounter by properly storing and disposing of human food. Doing so may save a bear's life.
If an encounter with a bear does occur, it is key to understand a few pieces of information, all of which when used during an encounter could save your life and the bear's life. Though bear behavior may appear unpredictable, experts who have studied bears for decades have concluded that bear behavior is quite predictable. These experts believe that if a bear becomes aggressive and attacks a human being, there is a logical explanation for such behavior. Usually in interactions between bears and humans, conflict does not occur. Quite often, bears will be easily spooked and run away. However, bears may charge at humans, but it has been observed that during these running dashes, the bear more often than not will dart off at a diagonal rather than making any contact with the human. This charging tactic is simply a way for the bear to communicate that the human is invading its territory and should leave immediately. The way in which people make a clean exit from a bear's territory is of incredible importance. Though the instinctual reaction may be to run, at top speed, away from the bear, such a response triggers the reaction to chase the runner. Bears can quickly get up to speeds exceeding 30 miles per hour, so outrunning a bear is unlikely. Furthermore, climbing up a tree to avoid further confrontation with a bear is also a poor choice, as bears are skilled tree climbers. The best approach to use after encountering a bear in the wild is to avoid eye contact while backing away slowly and at a diagonal. If such efforts at backing away calmly and slowly fail, and the bear becomes more and more aggressive, it is possible to scare the bear away by yelling loudly and making yourself appear big by slamming hiking poles or sticks into one another over your head. However, it is recommended that these aggressive tactics only be used when necessary.
If you have questions about bear safety in and around Aspen/Snowmass, our Stay Aspen Snowmass vacation experts are happy to provides tips and relieve any worry about bear encounters in the wild. As stated above, bear encounters are easy to avoid, and if they do occur, they can be tactfully managed through a mindful response. Do not let the worry of bear encounters keep you from enjoying a summer vacation in Aspen/Snowmass. Hike, bike, climb, camp, and enjoy the summer in these beautiful mountains!