Bear Mauls Man on Alaska Ski Trip, Leaving Him Hospitalized With Head Injuries

A man was airlifted to hospital after being mauled by a bear while backcountry skiing in Alaska last Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard has said.

The victim sustained injuries to his head and hands during the attack, which took place on a mountain near the Haines region. He was rescued by a specialist helicopter crew and flown to the capital city of Juneau, where emergency services were waiting.

Backcountry skiing, also called off-piste skiing, is "any type of skiing done outside the patrolled boundaries of a ski area," according to a fact-sheet published online by the outdoor adventure-focused business Recreational Equipment, Inc.

It was not immediately known what type of bear was responsible for the mauling. The state of Alaska is home to all three of the North American species: black bears, brown bears and polar bears. The U.S. Coast Guard has been contacted for comment.

Officials said in a media release alongside video footage of the rescue that the Juneau division's watchstanders received an "agency assist request" for a helicopter from the Alaska State Troopers law enforcement agency at about 3:20 p.m. Saturday.

An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew dispatched from Air Station Sitka located the man roughly 10 miles northwest of Haines. He was at an elevation of 1,600 feet, just above Chilkoot Lake. The victim had been with two other skiers, who were not injured.

The crew was able to hoist the mauled man onboard the helicopter and provide medical care during transit to Juneau. The two other people who were in his party were able to continue down the mountain without further assistance from the rescue team.

Lt. Cmdr. Will Sirokman, a co-pilot during the incident, said: "The other members in the patient's skiing party had the proper equipment and knowledge to assist with his injuries and communicate for help in 15 degree temperatures with sunset approaching.

"Their satellite communication provided precise GPS coordinates and elevation of their location. Equally important, they had brightly colored fabric to signal the helicopter as we approached. This was absolutely crucial to us finding them in a timely manner."

The Coast Guard said the medical condition of the bear attack victim was not known at the time of the release on Sunday, but noted he had been both "responsive and talking" at the time of the hoist. The injured man's identity was not released.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game notes in a fact sheet that bears are "curious, intelligent and tend to avoid or ignore people, but can be dangerous."

It explains: "If a bear makes contact, you have two choices: play dead or fight back. The best choice depends on whether the bear is acting defensively or is seeking food."

As reported by The Anchorage Daily News, Sean Farley, Research Biologist and Bear Specialist at the same state wildlife department previously explained online that bears hibernate during winter however they "aren't sleeping the whole time."

"In the colder, northern parts of Alaska, bears hibernate about seven months of the year. Bears in the warmer, coastal regions of the state hibernate for 2-5 months," he wrote.

Brown bear in Alaska
A brown bear walks through a field at Katmai National Park on August 14, 2020 in King Salmon, Alaska. A man was mauled by a bear while backcountry skiing in Alaska last Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard has said. The type of bear involved was not immediately known. Abbie Parr/Getty