Big cat triggers Breck avalanche
BRECKENRIDGE – A mountain lion started, got caught in and survived an avalanche near Breckenridge’s Imperial Bowl Friday.
When Breckenridge ski patroller Matt Krane arrived at the T-bar a little before 9 a.m. Friday, he thought he saw a dog running across the slope above him.
“It looked like a Great Pyrenees,” Krane said.
Initially, Krane thought it was someone’s dog from town, but then he realized it was a mountain lion.
“It was definitely a big cat – you could tell by the shape of its back,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how quickly it could move in the snow.”
Krane said it was the first time he had seen a mountain lion. He watched it until the cat disappeared over the ridge, and then he called fellow patrollers and friends who could look for the animal through binoculars or spotting scopes.
When Breckenridge resident Wendy Cooney got the message from Krane to look up at Peak 8, Cooney didn’t know she was looking for a mountain lion.
“I had just heard something about the first part of Imperial,” she said. “I set up the scope, and I was trying to figure out what he was talking about.”
Cooney watched as the mountain lion started a shallow avalanche. The cat struggled in it and then ran off.
According to Krane, patrollers at Peak 9 also witnessed the slide.
“It went from Imperial Bowl to the Lake Chutes – about 150 yards across,” he said. “The slide fell about 600 vertical feet.”
The avalanche occurred within the ski area’s boundary but in an area that was not open for skiing or snowboarding Friday, Krane said. No skiers were caught in the slide.
It’s not common for animals to start slides, said Knox Williams, director of Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
“We do know of instances where elk were seen in the start zone and triggered the slide, but that’s pretty rare,” he said. “It might happen once or twice a year in Colorado.”
This was the first time Williams had heard of an avalanche triggered by a species of cat.
“I’m very surprised to see a mountain lion at that elevation – that’s what’s truly surprising,” he said.
“While this is maybe uncommon, it’s certainly not impossible,” said Kirk Oldham, a Colorado Division of Wildlife District Manager for Summit County. “This mountain lion was probably just moving from one range to another.”
Mountain lions have incredibly large ranges, he said. At this time of year, the cats spend much of their time at lower elevations, following their prey: deer and elk.
Male mountain lions typically weigh about 150 pounds and females from 90 to 95 pounds.
“They’re pretty large,” Oldham said. “What distinguished this one from any other cat … it was very tawny and brown in color and had a very long tail, (which) would distinguish it from a bobcat or a lynx.”
Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or firstname.lastname@example.org
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