for National Geographic News
When Olympic skiers raced down the slopes of Turin this year, they probably weren't running over hibernating bears.
But the athletes competing in the next Winter Olympics could do just that. Black bear dens are all over Whistler Mountain, the British Columbia (see map) site just north of Vancouver that will host the games in 2010.
Black bears are drawn to the mountain for the same reason as snow bunnies: the ski runs.
Where trees are cut down for the runs, grasses coat the disturbed areas of forest and provide prime grazing for the bears in spring.
The bears also fatten up on the autumn berries that pop up like weeds in the cleared areas.
Luckily for skiers, the bears sleep all winter, leaving the runs clear for most of the time people are around.
Independent researcher Michael Allen has been working with the Whistler area bears for over 14 years.
By tracking their behavior with both field observations and DNA testing, he monitors the feeding, breeding, and territory patterns of the animals.
Allen says it is not unusual to see ski tracks going right over a sleeping bear's den in the middle of winter. Cushioned from the noise under several feet of snow, the bear doesn't seem to mind.
During their waking hours, though, the bears are not always so placid, nor do they always stay on the mountain away from humans.
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