Cheri Luther was snowboarding under clear Colorado skies last weekend when, she wrote on Facebook, she turned around and “saw this ‘brown horse’ charging right for me.”
It was no horse. It was a moose — a moose on the loose — galloping down the slopes at the Breckenridge Ski Resort and passing skiers and snowboarders as if it were in a race to the bottom.
This being 2017, Luther had a video camera at the ready and shot the whole marvelous thing — all while staying upright and moving on her snowboard. “I was too scared to stop in case he was chasing me!” she wrote. Her friend filmed from another angle, one that clearly showed the moose smoking the competition.
But was this a competitive moose, a frightened moose or a moose having a blast? For moose behavior analysis, we turned to Kris Hundertmark, chair of the biology and wildlife department at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. He has observed a lot of moose, and he had several thoughts on this video.
In Hundertmark’s view, the moose was very likely scared. Hundertmark said it appeared to be a calf separated from its mother, which it would usually stay near until she has another baby toward the end of May. But this calf is like a teenager moose — old enough to roam pretty far from Mom while browsing for food, he said.
Snack time probably took an alarming turn when the snowboarders sailed down the hill.
“I’d say the moose was startled by the snowboarders and its anti-predator strategy kicked in,” Hundertmark wrote in an email. “If it had been with its mother, it likely would have taken a cue from her as to what to do. If she has lived within a ski area for a long time, she might not have paid the snowboarders any mind, knowing they weren’t a threat.”
So the moose might have thought the snowboarders were predators. Then why keep running? Hundertmark said he’s seen this on Alaska highways during winter: A calf and an adult start running when a car approaches.
“The car being faster than the moose, you soon catch up to it and you can look out your side window to see the moose running right along side you,” Hundertmark said. “The moose still feels threatened, so it keeps running. Once you pass it, it normally stops running and goes back to what it was doing.”
But from the Breckenridge moose’s perspective, other skiers uphill were still on its, er, tail — something it would know, Hundertmark said, because moose “eyes bulge out to the sides much more than some mammals’, and they can see what is behind them a lot better than we humans can.”
Running into the forest also wouldn’t be an ideal option because the snow there would be deep and softer, meaning the moose would sink and need to expend more energy to flee the scene, and conserving energy in winter is “paramount,” Hundertmark said.
“We often see this behavior in Alaska during deep-snow winters,” he said. “Moose tend to hang out in people’s plowed driveways rather than wade though the snow in the yard and can sometimes be a nuisance when they refuse to leave — often becoming aggressive to humans leaving their houses.”
As for the now-famous running moose: Its après-ski experience may have been just as jarring. The Breckenridge Police Department said Monday that it had helped state wildlife officials tranquilize and relocate three moose from the ski resort’s Nordic Center area. They’re now at the other end of the county.