Saturday, June 18, 2005

Candidate for Darwin Award? Maybe not...

On my last day in Lake Louise I decided to take the gondola ride. It turns out the "gondola" is one of the ski lifts at the resort, repurposed in summer for tourist rides -- and most of the cars are chair lifts, not enclosed as you'd expect. It was a rainy and foggy day; I thought maybe I was nuts to even pay for a ride, if I wasn't going to see anything -- but I took an enclosed car and went anyway.

And I was glad I did: a couple of grizzly bears were feeding on the hill, and, on the way down, I got a good view of one of them:

I can now honestly say I was within about 70 feet of a grizzly bear. Of course, I am obliged to include the footnote that I was 70 feet ABOVE the bear, and it did not respond when I yelled "Hey, bear!" or made the noise you make when you want a dog to come near. The bear was too busy munching to pay attention to a camera-equipped tourist.

On my way down I spotted another critter -- one of the very few folks who, like me, chose to ride the lift that day. So I shot a photo of him passing by as he ascended and I descended. In looking at the picture later, I was astonished to see that this dude was sitting in the chair lift with the safety bar raised. Sure looks like a potential candidate for the Darwin Award, I thought:

A bit of Googling reveals that there is case law on this point. It turns out that many U.S. ski lifts, in Colorado and elsewhere, lack safety bars altogether. In Europe, by contrast, safety bars are ubiquitous. I find it funny that in the United States, a country where a step ladder has more safety stickers than a firearm does, something so common-sensical is so rare. Oh well: it is well-documented that humans are poor at ranking risk. A mountain goat in the Rockies is smarter about risk assessment than we are.

So I hope my fellow traveller had a good ride -- and I hope if he fell on the way down, that that grizzly didn't eat him. The bears sure seemed hungry.

Please see photos from the 2005 trip to Calgary and Lake Louise. (You have to subscribe to Imagestation to see photos, but subcription is free.)

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