Wildlife File: One Tumble, And Lunch Is Served

Fall Line

Former Big Mountain, Mont., ski coach Matt Mosteller may have found a new, if unorthodox, technique to motivate racers. Mosteller and Jim McIntyre were ski touring above 7,185-foot Swiftcurrent Pass in Montana’s Glacier National Park when Mosteller stopped by the edge of a large rocky snowfield to photograph his buddy as he glided by. After clicking a few frames, Mosteller pulled his eye from the viewfinder and spotted an adult grizzly charging across the rocks in full-attack mode. Stunned, Mosteller hurled the camera at the bear and turned to flee on his skis. That’s when the extent of his plight came into focus: As he had been snapping photographs, a curious cub had wandered off the rocks to curl up behind him.

Mosteller frantically skated away and started poling to pick up speed. “The only thing going through my mind was the wish that my skis were better waxed.” He allowed himself one glance back. “I could actually see the plaque on her teeth and feel her claws hitting the tails of my skis.” Within a few feet, gravity kicked in to give Mosteller some separation, but grizzlies can hit speeds of 30 mph and this one kept up the chase, following Mosteller’s every change of direction like an 800-pound smart missile. “I was scared I wasn’t carrying enough speed,” Mosteller says. “For a few seconds, life felt like it was balanced on a very fine point.”

A hundred yards down the hill, the bear called off the chase when it realized its quarry was out of reach. As an experienced climber, former ski racer and ski-racing coach, Mosteller is no stranger to adrenaline sports. Nonetheless, he confesses that a nano-second’s lead over an enraged mama grizzly marks his all-time adrenaline high. Weeks after his narrow escape, he is still waking from nightmares. “Had I looked up from the camera a half second later, I would have been hamburger.”