A lynx ambled through a crowd of enthralled onlookers at Purgatory Resort on Wednesday, which was the second time in two weeks that the elusive animal crossed paths with humans in the area.
Airrick Hix was enjoying the Purgatory slopes Wednesday when he spotted the lynx walking across Demon Trail. He and a few dozen skiers and snowboarders skidded to a halt and paused to watch the cat stroll leisurely past with perceptible indifference.
Hix captured the encounter on video and posted it to Facebook. He could not be reached for comment.
Jim Russell of San Francisco said he was about one jump before the base of Demon Trail when he saw “some kind of feral cat” emerge from the wooded area separating Demon and an adjacent trail.
“It moved really slowly for being a wild animal with so many skiers and snowboarders, but it seemed to pay them no mind and walked up the hill and through the ski run,” he said. “Within a minute, 50 or 60 skiers had their cameras out. It was headed toward Lift 4.”
“What was encouraging was that people weren’t freaking out and chasing it or trying to grab it,” said Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “People remained calm and stood and watched it, which was great. It appears it didn’t feel threatened and was walking very calmly. Sometimes, it is a concern if animals are getting a little too habituated.”
Lewandowski added that it is illegal for people to put out food for wildlife.
The animals have been known to occasionally investigate activity at the resort, venturing close enough for the lucky skier or snowboarder to see, usually from a chairlift.
“Lynx are usually pretty elusive, so this is a rare occasion at Purgatory,” spokeswoman Kim Oyler said.
It’s unexpected but not unheard of for lynx to be so at ease around people.
“It’s unusual that it would walk out there,” Lewandowski said. “A ski run is an easy place for it to cross to get from one part of its habitat to another. It’s unusual, but it’s wildlife, and there’s no predicting what they’ll do from individual to individual.”
Southern Colorado is a stronghold for the threatened species, with sightings reported from Telluride to the eastern side of the San Juans and north to Gunnison. Lewandowski said sightings are not uncommon near Silverton, especially around Molas and Red Mountain passes, but anywhere above 8,000 feet and timberline is prime habitat.
On Dec. 15, a southbound motorist on U.S. Highway 550 happened upon a pair of lynx – a mother and her baby – on Molas Pass and snapped a photo.
Development and poaching had all but destroyed Colorado’s lynx population by the early 1970s. The animals were reintroduced to the state in 1999, two years after Parks and Wildlife started the program to bring them back to Colorado.
Southern Colorado was chosen because the region has a lower density of roads than any other part of the state.
Lewandowski said lynx are now second or third generation since the reintroduction. The Purgatory lynx wasn’t collared, which means it was born in the wild and is at least 2 years old, he said.