Mountain biker encounters cougar on Whistler's Sea to Sky Trail

Biker's cougar encounter

Evan Oder was out for a Monday afternoon bike ride on the Sea to Sky Trail, heading north towards his home in Whistler, when he saw what he thought was a dog about 30 metres ahead of him. 

"I was just zooming along, and I had my AirPods in as I was riding, listening to some music, and then all of a sudden, I see something, like, galloping on the trail in front of me ... I quickly realized, that's not a dog. That's a cougar," he said.

The encounter occurred on the Cheakamus River Access Road section of the trail, shortly before 5 p.m. on May 29.

"By the time I recognized it, it was already running and it was in front of me, so I was basically chasing it down on the trail," Oder added. He brought his bike to a halt, as the cougar moved off the trail a few metres into the forest. It stopped, keeping its eyes trained on the mountain biker. "That was when I really started to feel like I was in trouble," Oder said.

He grabbed a handful of rocks and lifted his bike onto its rear wheel to make it look bigger. Oder said he considered backtracking, but decided to continue on since he was only a couple-hundred metres from the Cheakamus suspension bridge.

As he made his way past the animal, "we kind of saw each other, but it didn't move, so I just kept moving, then put my bike down, got on and just started pedalling as fast towards the bridge as possible, while keeping eyes in the back of my head," he said. "Thankfully it was a simple section of trail."

Oder figured he was in the clear after the bridge, but said his nerves only eased up as he approached the Train Wreck area. "Until I started seeing other people, I was just paranoid," he recalled. Reflecting on the run-in afterwards, "it was actually really crazy, pretty magical—I didn't really get to admire it in the moment, but I can replay it right now in my head," Oder said.

It was Oder's second time spotting a cougar in the wild, after a previous sighting near the entrance to a Whistler Mountain Bike Park trail. But in that case, "there were, like, 10 other people, so I never felt like I was in danger ... yesterday I was riding solo, so for me, it was like, 'Oh man, I feel like I'm really in a vulnerable spot here.'" 

Sea to Sky-based conservation officer Brittany Mueller said the BC Conservation Officer Service has not seen any recent upticks in reported cougar sightings. She said the COS typically hears about one or two cougar sightings in the corridor each month, but the most recent cougar sighting in Whistler was reported in February.

Particularly in wilderness settings like those surrounding Whistler, "It's not uncommon to have a cougar sighting," she said. "Nothing has been reported to us that's been concerning or out of the [ordinary]."

Following sightings, wild cats typically move off, Mueller added. "Sometimes [cougars] can be curious—they're very similar to domesticated cats and their behaviours that way ... but usually, they're quite wary of people."

While sightings like Oder's are fairly common, attacks are exceptionally rare. 

Six people—five children and one adult—have died in cougar attacks in B.C. in the last century. A 1996 "Safety Guide to Cougars" published by the B.C. government cited 29 non-fatal cougar attacks during the previous 100 years, with two thirds of those occurring on Vancouver Island.

According to WildSafeBC, cougars—also known as mountain lions, pumas and panthers—account for about 2,500 calls to the COS reporting line every year, but many of those reported sightings turn out to be other animals, not cougars.

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