Dog attacks mar Aspen-to-Basalt nordic ski tour |

Dog attacks mar Aspen-to-Basalt nordic ski tour

OLD SNOWMASS ” Two cross-country skiers were attacked by dogs Saturday in separate incidents during the Town to Town Tour from Aspen to Basalt, authorities said.

One dog bit a man, while another male skier sacrificed a ski pole to fend off an attack by a different dog in a different location.

In both cases, the preliminary investigation indicates unattended dogs charged off private property onto public property and attacked skiers on the Rio Grande Trail, said John Armstrong, ranger for the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program.

The first incident occurred at about 11 a.m. beside Meanwhile Ranch, at 1651 Lower River Road, according to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. The ranch is approximately 1 mile upvalley from Old Snowmass.

The victim, Eric Altenbernd, said he skied by the ranch and saw a large German shepherd with a strange look in its eye as well as a less imposing dog.

“They were standing right next to a sign that said, “Beware of Dog,'” Altenbernd said.

The German shepherd ran around a closed ranch gate and circled behind the skier. “It grabbed me on the ass and I went down,” Altenbernd said.

The next few terrifying seconds flew by in a blur, but the incident also seemed to unfold in slow motion, he said. Altenbernd was in a prone position on the ground, with one ski off and the other bent awkwardly behind him while he was on his stomach. The dog’s face was about two feet from his.

Altenbernd pointed his pole at the dog and debated whether he should go on the offensive. He felt he needed to do something because he was in such a prone position. He feared the dog might lunge, so he felt “this instinct of ‘I’m going to kill this dog before it grabs my neck.'”

At the same time, Altenbernd knew he wasn’t in great position to attack, so he thought taking an aggressive action ” and failing to wound the dog ” would leave him vulnerable to an attack by a mad dog. Altenbernd ultimately stared down the dog, which slowly backed off as friends started skiing close and yelling. The dog went back into the ranch property and toward the house.

Altenbernd said the dog bite tore his clothes and produced two long scratches from teeth on his butt. He declined medical treatment and completed the ski tour to Basalt.

Pitkin County Deputy Sheriff Adam Crider said the dog will be quarantined at the ranch for 10 days to check for rabies. Armstrong said the attack occurred on the property of John Galardi, who wasn’t home at the time. Galardi is the founder of Wienerschnitzel, a fast-food chain that specializes in hot dogs.

Armstrong said he will give Galardi a ticket for the dog being off leash on the public trail. Crider said the sheriff’s office will hand its investigation report to the animal control department for a decision on whether or not to issue a vicious dog citation.

A second attack occurred slightly downvalley from Old Snowmass later in the day. Michael Thompson, a volunteer with the Town to Town Tour, was making a “sweep” to make sure stragglers were doing all right when a pit bull charged from a property on the south side of the trail. The dog and a companion terrier were running fast between a house and metal horse barn, so Thompson just thought they were going to greet someone at first. Then the pit bull “made for me like he meant business,” Thompson said.

Thompson used his carbon fiber skate ski pole to deflect the attack. “He grabbed the pole and crunched it,” Thompson said. He whacked the dog in the butt with his other pole, and the dog retreated about 30 or so feet. “I thankfully didn’t get bit,” Thompson said.

He intends to report the incident to the sheriff’s office Monday and present the dog owner with a bill for new ski poles.

Altenbernd is uncertain what action, if any, he will pursue against the owner of the dog that bit him. He also is a dog owner so he isn’t unsympathetic to the pets, he said, but he also wants dog owners to take responsibility.

“I was intimidated,” he said. “It’s a danger and it should be brought to attention.”

A woman who was in Altenbernd’s group said she believes she would have been more severely injured in that type of attack.

Armstrong said it is always unacceptable for dogs to attack people on public trails, but it was particularly troubling on Saturday because the event was well-publicized.

“A little kid could really get mauled by a dog like this,” he said.

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