It has been quite an unusual early season here. Whilst Scandinavia and Central Europe have seen very little to no natural snow, we have had unusually large amounts and Skiing has been incredible on all trails for a good couple of weeks now. Whilst this early snow has been a real blessing for us athletes here able to train really well as opposed to many other teams that have been limited to the ski tunnels in Scandinavia, It has been far from a blessing for a certain Grizzly Bear. As most would know, Bears hibernate during winter, however the early snow has created a bit of havoc for this particularly large Brown Bear. When I first arrived he was caught on security cameras raiding some bins in a nearby residential area, obviously just trying to get the last bit of food before he sleeps off the winter. Unfortunately for him, shortly after, we received the first very large snow falls meaning there were far less holes available for him to go and sleep in as they had all mostly filled with snow. Unluckily it was Hillside area where we ski that he has been trying to find a place to sleep and this has created a bit of danger for us skiers.
Every night the groomer goes around the trails and by morning there are a very large number of tracks heavily imprinted in the snow and from these prints you can tell that this guy is big. The footprints are honestly as long as my foot and obviously far wider and even with the very cold hard groomed snow, he manages to leave a respectably deep hole to show where he has been. In one place you can also see where he had sat down in the soft snow off to the side, with a big arse (as in literally – buttocks) print and his two massive hind paws just in front and off to the side. This is the kind of bear you don’t want to come across and with skiing being such a quiet movement you can creep up on them and spook them quite easily. It is for this reason that we would have frequently been seen to look very stupid yelling ‘hey oh, hey oh, whoop, whoop!’ as we ski down the hills which is actually a very smart, effective anti- mauling measure to take. I have also been told there are a few steps of things you should do if you come across a Grizzly. First stop and try and back away slowly but if that doesn’t work and the bear starts coming at you, you have to try and fight it with punching it in the nose being the most successful course of action. This is probably however an almost void step when it comes to a bear this size, any skier who can manage to punch a bear square in the nose without getting clawed has definitely chosen the wrong sport! So the third step is to play dead, however I have been told that whilst this usually works on smaller black bears, apparently the Grizzlys know when you are fooling with them so you usually have to wait until you have been clawed once, then play dead and hope he isn’t too hungry so he just leaves you alone.
From this you can see that coming across a bear creates a far from ideal situation, and with this guy cold, hungry and probably quite angry it is understandable why I am a little jumpy. The first indication of this jumpiness was shown whilst skiing with Jeff. We were discussing energy systems and fast and slow twitch muscle fibres. As he is explaining something all I have heard was ‘Oh Sh*t, Bear! – Fight Mechanism!’ and had of there been a vertical jump test pole right above me, I would have maxed that bad boy out! Luckily this was just a poor choice of examples used by Jeff to explain what activates the fast twitch muscle fibres so my near death experience became non-existent! The second, more real near death experience came a few days later when the APU guys were having a day off and so I went out for a ski by myself. The man on the groomer came by and warned me that the bear had been spotted, and said that if I just skied the short sprint loop, then followed behind him a few minutes back along the trail I would be fine. So trailing probably less than 10min behind the groomer I am skiing on one of faster flats and come across the massive bear prints all over the freshly groomed track. Let’s just say that I stood frozen looking around for quite some time, then skied off at quite a pace. That night I had a dream that I did come across a bear so I took off my ski and managed to bonk it right on the nose, and after waking up I realised this was actually a pretty smart dream – more length and leverage, so that is my new game plan.
Next up are the Fairbanks Alaska cup races. Training has continued to be very solid and I’m looking forward to getting into the racing again to see what I can produce.