Wolverines and Bears

We couldn’t believe it. From the height of a chairlift this past Sunday, we watched in awe as a wolverine trotted out of the forest and onto the groomed slope – only to dash back to safety as a skier slid towards it.

You might expect to see a wolverine here... not on a ski hill. (Photo: B. Kopp)

The flattened bear cub-sized body, lighter stripe of fur across the forehead and along the sides of the body, long bushy tail – there was no doubt as to what we’d seen.

We cranked our heads as the lift continued up, watching as Gulo gulo (Latin for Glutton glutton) stood at the edge of the woods, took a hesitant step back towards the slope and then beelined back into the safety of cover.

Riding the lift with us was a gentleman from Romania. He said he’d seen one of these before, but had not yet seen a bear in the wild. We looked at him in amazement.

In the 25 years we’ve spent in these mountains – hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, backpacking, mountain biking, canoeing and working – I’ve only seen one other wolverine. My husband had seen tracks, but not the actual animal. My daughter had also never seen the biggest member of the weasel family.

Bears, on the other hand… 

As exciting as it is to see a grizzly strolling nonchalantly towards your backcountry kitchen area or a black bear pop over a hill as you munch on a bite of lunch, this wildlife sighting tops the list. Why? Bear sightings are not uncommon in wild places, but seeing a wolverine is a rare treat – even if you’re stuck on a ski lift.

Wolverine Factoids:

  • Just over 3 feet long from nose to end of tail (the tail being less than a 1/3 of the overall length)
  • Average weight of an adult male is around 35 pounds.
  • Often called “skunk-bear” for its rather nasty odor.
  • Known to occasionally trash backcountry huts in search of food.
  • Wolverines are sometimes confused with their American badger cousins. Badgers are grassland animals; wolverines are found in subalpine and alpine environments.

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