A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to encounter my second black bear during my two year stint in Canada. When I first arrived in Ottawa, I had heard I was very likely to see a bear whilst training in the famous Gatineau Park and I felt this would make my trip to Canada complete.
My first encounter was last year during the end of fall, while rollerskiing near Mica. I saw the bear from a distance and came near enough to appreciate it’s size and power without really being scared of it attacking me. Besides, I had a long, fast downhill to escape anyway. With this thrill long behind me, I wondered when I would see my next black bear and in some ways was almost hoping to see one again. After all, they seemed harmless enough..
Three weeks ago, I got my wish, which has prompted me to write this article in an effort to assist other foreign travelers with the dangers of wanting the “complete Canadian experience”!
Top Five Black Bear Tips For Australian Skiers
1. Do not tell your Canadian friends you desperately want to see a black bear.
Sure, you want to see a black bear, but
go to a zoo. Persistently telling Canadians you want to encounter a
bear makes them think twice about your sanity and as Murphy’s Law
would have it, you will come across a bear, closer than is comfortable
and it will scare the pants off you.
Carry spare underwear.
2. Do not chase the bear.
According to “Living with Black Bears in Ontario: A guide to co-existing with black bears”, you should; Stop. Face the Bear. Do not run.
My recent encounter was while rollerskiing
on trail #5 near Relais Plein Air. As most of you are aware, rollerskis
do not have brakes. I rounded a fast downhill corner only to see a large
black bear sitting on the path in front of me. I got the shock of my
life and couldn’t stop. He got the shock of his life and took off
down the trail at a gentle loping pace. Little did the bear know I couldn’t
stop and hence was gaining on him at quite a pace. As he turned to ensure
he was well away from me, only to see me GAINING on him, the look in
my eyes was one of shock. So again, do not chase the bear.
3. Make sure the bear has a clear escape route.
Once again our trusty guide from the Ontario Natural Resources Office tells us that if you encounter a bear, make sure it has somewhere to go. Unfortunately the city didn’t have bear escapes on their mind while designing trail #5. This particular section of trail is quite narrow, has no shoulders and thick bush on either side.
As I gained on the bear, I was beginning to fear for my life as I felt sure this was an act of aggression towards the innocent bear. Luckily it decided to make its own path and turned a sharp 90o to the right and barreled right through various tress and bushes to makes its own escape route.
4. Slowly Back Away
Again, rollerskiers have difficulty with this important tip. Classic skiers especially have the most amount of trouble considering the skis have a ratchet built into them to avoid them going backwards and allowing us to get a powerful kick. Please refer to point 2, do not chase the bear. I managed to not back away, but double poled past the point where he had disappeared faster than Tor Arne Hetland in a sprint finish.
5. Do not vividly describe the encounter to your parents at home in Australia.
This is perhaps the most important advice of all, as most Australians think all bears are 12 ft high, the width of a pickup truck and eat humans for fun. If your parents are going to be happy about you continuing to live on the other side of the world, it’s best to just tell them you saw a few “cute, fluffy, oversized black koalas in captivity” and they will be most satisfied.
Watch out for the bears on trail #5 and enjoy your rollerskiing.
How an Aussie should get within feet of a baby black bear... stuffed, and at a museum as Andrew's fiancee Victoria demonstrates.
- Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Bear Wise Website.
- Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Bear Wise Website: Bear Biology, Up close and personal with Ontario's black bears.
- Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Bear Wise Videos.
- Wikipedia entry on Black Bears. (Good pictures)