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ANCHORAGE - A bold coyote snatched a pair of ski goggles dropped by a boy at the Hilltop Ski Area and state game officials will take steps to discourage the animals from contact with humans.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials were at the ski area Wednesday with rubber slugs and cracker shells.
"We've got to catch them quick and teach them what they're learning about people being approachable is a bad thing," said biologist Rick Sinnott. "Otherwise, I'd be afraid that the coyote will escalate things at some point and actually start trying to bite somebody."
At least one coyote and as many as four may be visiting the slopes of the ski area, chewing ropes and hoses and showing no fear of people, employees said.
The animals have not injured anyone and have not appeared aggressive but their brazenness is cause for concern, Sinnott said.
Coyotes grow to about 30 pounds and are opportunistic feeders. They are common in Anchorage and generally stay away from people.
After sightings that began about a week and a half ago, ski patrol director Jessie Oliver saw a coyote Monday chewing on fencing as a boy about 12 years old fell while skiing and dropped his goggles.
"The coyote walked within 2 feet of him and he turned around and saw it and was like, 'Oh no,"' Oliver said. The boy started crawling away.
While his back was turned, the coyote crept up, snatched his goggles and ran off.
Oliver was about 100 feet away. She pursued the thief onto a cross-country trail.
"It kept setting them down, so I would go to go pick them up, and then it would rush back and grab them and take them farther," she said. "It seemed to be more playing around."
The coyote, dubbed "Friendly" by employees, finally took off into the woods with the goggles in its jaws, she said. Manager Steve Remme called state game authorities.
"This is the first time this has ever happened," Remme said. "We've seen coyotes over the years, and sometimes our groomers, primarily, will see them at night and they'll be walking up and down the lift line because sometimes kids will drop candy bars and stuff off the lift. ... Generally, as soon as the skiers hit the slopes, they're gone."
Sinnott rode the lifts and patrolled the slopes Wednesday afternoon with a shotgun and the non-lethal shells. He had heard a coyote yapping but did not get clear shot at the animal.
The only sign of coyotes were a few golf-ball sized tracks pressed into snow and bits of chewed up fencing rope. Sinnott said he hopes to scare the coyotes off quickly.
"Otherwise we might have to trap them or actually shoot them if they start pushing a little bit harder," he said.
He plans patrol a few more times but otherwise will rely on ski officials calling and reporting when they are sighted.
Ski patroller Christina Waters said animals on the slopes are not unusual but most encounters involve moose that are easily shooed away or an occasional lynx, she said.
"We would love to have it here; it's just a hazard to the kids and it keeps chewing on our rope line," she said. "That stuff's expensive."