Steamboat Springs Two Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athletes had a close brush with a big cat during a workout Wednesday when a mountain lion reportedly bounded across the trail in front of them.
The two athletes had become separated from the other five runners and coach during a time trial run to the top of Emerald Mountain. When the group was near the quarry, coach Robbie Massie said he heard a sound and turned around to cheer on the two runners but saw the cat about 10 feet down the trail.
“It just kind of stood there and looked up, and it was chewing on something,” Massie said. “I had the kids all grab big sticks.”
Massie said he herded the runners, ages 15 to 18, away from the edge of the trail where the cat was sitting.
Then, thinking of the two runners who were still down on the trail, Massie said the group started yelling and descending the mountain on another path.
The two who were separated, Conner Bernard, 16, and Alex Rudolph, 15, had taken a wrong turn and were on a different trail, but as they ascended, Bernard said, he saw mountain lion tracks.
The runners going back down the mountain to find the pair missed them because they were on a different track. After reaching the top near the radio towers and starting back down, the duo heard something nearby.
“We stopped for maybe 30 seconds, and we could hear something bounding through the bushes, (but) not necessarily coming at us,” Rudolph said.
The coaches had warned students that a mountain lion could be on the trail, and Bernard knew how to respond.
“I said, ‘Get big, get big,’ and we wrapped onto one another and put our arms up,” he said. “The mountain lion ran anywhere from 10 to 20 feet in front of us, bounding across the trail.”
Bernard said the cat was bigger than a dog, but not huge. He estimated its weight at about 200 pounds.
“It was in full stride, and I have no idea what it was chasing,” he said.
During the ordeal, Massie and another coach were searching the mountainside for the athletes.
The run to the top that usually takes 30 minutes ended an hour and 45 minutes after it started when the groups met at the quarry.
“It was pretty scary, actually,” Massie said.
Jim Haskins, area manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said as long as the cat does not display any aggressive behavior or stray near schools, officials will leave it alone.
“Where we’re seeing this lion, there should be lions up there,” Haskins said.
Hikers on Emerald also recently spotted a mountain lion.
Haskins said he would expect there to be a maximum of two cats on Emerald. He said most of the time, the cats go unnoticed, but the best tactic is exactly what Bernard and Rudolph did: get big.
“Hold your arms up, hold your coat up, make noise, back away, don’t run away,” he said. “In the rare occurrence where you might end up in an attack with a lion, you want to fight back” with sticks, fists or anything else available.
He said some people want the DOW to kill or move the cat but that right now there’s no reason to do that.
Haskins said younger or smaller people are at higher risk, so parents should stick with their children while they hike.
Winter Sports Club Executive Director Rick DeVos said the close encounter would end the athletes’ trips up the hill.
“For us, we’re going to restrict athletes from being up on Emerald Mountain at all right now,” he said.
“Hopefully, this will be resolved by spring.”