Gondola, restaurant close after Sundeck employee shoots bear
A young bear’s visit to the Sundeck atop Aspen Mountain early Saturday morning prompted Aspen Skiing Co. to temporarily shut down the gondola and restaurant after an employee shot the bruin.
Authorities with Colorado Parks and Wildlife later that morning found the yearling under the deck of the restaurant, where it was reeling from two gunshot wounds. Parks and Wildlife officials subsequently killed it, authorities said.
“They found a blood trail and it was under the deck,” said Perry Will, area wildlife manager for Parks and Wildlife. “It was probably dying.”
He estimated the male bear to weigh about 70 pounds. The bear had been hanging around the Sundeck for the past two weeks. And Friday, a Sundeck employee used a nonlethal means to shoot him — a beanbag gun — but he returned two hours later, Will said. Before Saturday’s episode, in which the bear was inside the restaurant, the animal had charged a chef once, Will said.
“It was starting to show no fear for people and aggressive behavior,” he said.
Parks and Wildlife spokesman Mike Porras said the agency is investigating the shooting to determine if “it was an appropriate use of force.”
“From what I understand he felt his safety was threatened,” Porras said.
Will said the shooting was likely justified because the employee, who said the bear was charging him, was acting in self-defense.
The bear was shot twice. The employee misfired once with a 12-gauge shotgun, but his other shot was true. The pistol was likely used because he had just two rounds in the shotgun, Will theorized. The pistol was fired once, with the bullet penetrating the bear’s front shoulder, he said.
Aspen Skiing Co., which owns and operates the Sundeck, contacted Parks and Wildlife after the shooting.
Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said the company had been in contact with Parks and Wildlife about the bear prior to Saturday’s incident, as well.
Employees tried to scare the bear away Saturday sometime between 7 and 8 a.m. with no success, he said.
“Eventually it charged our employees, and one of them was armed,” Hanle said, noting the worker had the firearms because the bear had shown aggression on previous visits.
Hanle said the bear broke through a locked door at the Sundeck.
“It had broken into a locked freezer before,” Hanle said. “It seemed adept at getting in.”
The gondola and Sundeck opened at approximately noon that day, Hanle said, noting Skico held off the openings because the bear had not been disposed.
“It wasn’t a big deal for our business,” he said. “But it was a tragic situation. We wish there had been a better outcome.”
The Sundeck also was said to be a mess, with the bear’s blood and feces inside, Will said.
Both Will and Hanle said this was the first time they’ve heard of a ski lift being shuttered because of bear activity.
“That’s a first for me,” Will said.
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.