Bear attacks man in house near Aspen early Friday morning; officials find, euthanize bruin

A man in Aspen visiting friends was recovering Friday at a Grand Junction hospital after being attacked earlier in the morning by a bear that broke into a Castle Creek Valley house through the front door, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials.

The man underwent surgery on “significant” injuries to his head and neck after being swiped by the bear. Wildlife officials were able to locate and kill the bear they believe to be involved. They said it is a bruin that they likely tried to capture and relocate last fall in the Castle Creek Valley.

A team with tracking dogs located the bear and treed it on the backside of Aspen Mountain around 8 a.m., but the bear then escaped from the tree, according to CPW officials on scene.

Officers were able to shoot the bear, which went into the mineshaft. They sent evidence from the animal to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife lab in Fort Collins for testing then it will be sent to a lab in Wyoming to confirm it was the bear that injured the man, CPW area manager Matt Yamashita said Friday.

“Based on the description we got from the victim before he was transported to a hospital in Grand Junction, the bear the dogs were able to find and locate from the scent trail that went from the house to that area. Our belief is that it was the correct bear,” Yamashita said at the scene. “We never like to have to put an animal down, but the protection of the public is paramount once a bear begins entering homes and responding aggressively toward people.”

The dogs were able to track the scent of the bear down Castle Creek Road toward town, he said. The dogs then tracked the scent up Aspen Mountain, according to another wildlife official. The bear was found about 100 feet inside a mine shaft on the north-facing side of Aspen Mountain.

“Based on route the bear took from the house to the mineshaft, this area was very familiar to the bear. He didn’t hesitate on where he was going or why,” Yamashita said. “We are pretty confident this a bear that’s been in the area for a while. Our officers have received historical calls from last fall and tried to set traps to capture a bear similar in appearance.”

The bear attacked the man at about 1:30 a.m. with a paw swipe, which resulted in severe cuts to the victim’s head and neck. Yamashita said officers responded about 3 a.m. and are investigating how the bear got in and the encounter. He said they were not able to find “any relatable attractants that were obvious as to why the bear was there or why it entered the house.”

CPW spokesman Randy Hampton said the victim was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital and then transferred by ambulance to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction to have surgery. The man was stable and the injuries are not life-threatening, he said. No other updates on his condition were available by Friday afternoon.

“The injuries are pretty significant lacerations to his face, neck and head,” Hampton told The Aspen Times. “We’re worried about his eye and his ear.”

DANGEROUS ENCOUNTER: Man attacked Friday talks about incident

Hampton said the incident happened at a house about 2 miles up the Castle Creek Valley.

The bear matched the description of a bear that has been frequenting the Castle Creek neighborhood for several days, according to officials, and it may be the same bear that has been reported for getting into trash in the area for the past couple of years.

Hampton said it was one of four bear calls CPW received from Thursday night into Friday morning in Pitkin County. The others were in Snowmass Village, where a trap has been set; another bear in Woody Creek; and one at Difficult Campground. He said the bear at the campground about 2 miles from Aspen has been frequenting the area in the past few weeks and was hazed about a week ago with rubber buckshot.

So far this year, CPW has received 198 bear-related calls in Pitkin County, which is down from the 244 they received by this time last year, Hampton said.

This is the first bear attack in Aspen this year. In 2019, wildlife officers responded to three bear-human attacks in the Aspen area.

“There aren’t those lulls any more,” Hampton said of the human-bear interactions each summer. “This is what we’re dealing with. So many people recreating and living in Colorado and we have so many things we trying to account for. Nature has a fragile cycle that can come about any time and disrupt the bear’s natural food sources. All these conditions can drive bears to town.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on July 13 to reflect the injured man was visiting and was not the homeowner, as initially reported by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials.