Skier rescued in Alaska backcountry after bear attack

A skier who was mauled by a brown bear was hoisted to safety out of Alaska backcountry over the weekend, officials said.

The man was stable at a hospital after Saturday’s mauling on a mountain northwest of Haines, in the southeastern part of the state near the top of the Alaskan panhandle, the Coast Guard and state troopers said.

The skier, who suffered injuries to his head and hands, was airlifted by a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew, the Guard said in a statement.

He was attacked while he and two other skiers were hiking up a mountain to ski down it and unknowingly came across a den with a brown bear and its cubs, Alaska State Troopers said in a report.

The bear left the den, attacked one of the skiers who rolled down the hill, and then left, the troopers said.

The skiers were at around 1,600 feet of elevation in what was described as steep terrain. The other two skiers were not hurt and went down the mountain on their own, officials said.

The Coast Guard said they were well-prepared and able to seek help in 15-degree weather with sunset fast approaching.

“Their satellite communication device provided the precise GPS coordinates and elevation of their location. Equally important, they had brightly colored fabric to signal the helicopter as we approached,” Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Will Sirokman, who was co-pilot in the rescue, said in a statement. “This was absolutely crucial to us finding them in a timely manner.”

The state department of fish and game has said bear attacks are rare.

The Alaska Section of Epidemiology in a 2019 study on bear attacks in the state identified 10 deaths from eight bear attacks between 2000 and 2017.

Sixty-eight people were hospitalized for injuries from 66 bear attacks in that span, according to the report. The authors noted that there were important limitations in its review, like injuries treated in the field and varying levels of detail in death reports.

At least two people were killed by bears in Alaska in 2020. A man was killed near Hope on July 26, the state fish and game department said, and an Ohio man on a moose-hunting trip was killed by a bear in September in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.