It's not something skiers expect to stumble across in the backcountry of Banff National Park this time of year — a hibernating black bear beneath a tree.
But that's what happened to conservationist Karsten Heuer and some friends while ski touring near Hector Lake, about 20 kilometres north of Lake Louise.
The brief encounter last Saturday woke the bear from its slumber, prompting Parks Canada to close the area to give the bruin the space and security it needs to survive through the critical winter hibernation period.
"It was one of those moments where the mind was having trouble making sense of what I was seeing. Half a metre away from my boots was a bear curled up like a dog underneath a spruce tree," said Heuer.
"The bear was on top of the snowpack, exposed to the elements save for the spruce branches. It was not in a den or anything."