selecting my first non-rented snowshoes

1:07 p.m. on December 11, 2008 (EST)
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I've done some light snowshoeing, equivalent to "day hikes", but have rented snowshoes each time. Obviously this isn't practical in the long term.
I'm considering a pair of Atlas 1025 Plus's, last year's model, because they're on sale for about half price.

I've rented them a couple times (in fact my photo on here shows me using them :)) and they seemed fine for me for day hikes. I haven't tried any real backpacking with them.

I've also rented the "plastic" ("MSR?") style, and found them too flexible, and didn't care for them.

I can't really afford full price snowshoes right now, but at the half price closeout I could swing it. But I don't want to purchase them even at the sale price if they're not right for me long term.

I'm about 180# without a pack. I want to go on terrain which could range from relatively flat, to more difficult "climbing", comparable to what I'd do on a more challenging day hike. This would be primarily in the Sierra.

I see a couple reviews here are pretty positive, but one on the REI site is pretty negative (http://www.rei.com/product/774215#customerReview).

Do you'all have any comments on whether or not this would be a sound decision for me?

Thanks! :)

2:31 p.m. on December 11, 2008 (EST)
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I had a pair of 1025's which I used a few times before switching to skis. Mine had the old straps instead of the newer bindings. At half price, I think they'd be a deal. I read the review on the REI site. The 1025's are advertised on the Atlas website as a hiking snowshoe, not a climbing snowshoe.

I'm not sure if they would be big enough for you with a pack. Bill can probably answer that better than I can.

4:33 p.m. on December 11, 2008 (EST)
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The 1030 or 1035 are more for your weight, especially if you add a pack. I have had my Atlas for about 15 years now, more or less the equivalent of the 1230 (the numbers are similar, but Atlas changed what the numbering meant when they were bought by Tubbs, then ended up with K2). We have 4 pairs in the family. Two have been up Denali and on serious winter backpacks a number of times.

I feel that Atlas has gone down a bit in quality from when Perry started and owned the company. However, they are still among the better snowshoes. The 10-series at present is for trail walking, and the 12 series is for "mountain hiking" (whatever that means). Mine have worked on fairly steep terrain in a wide variety of snow conditions - Sierra slush and concrete, ice, glacier walking, carrying up to 70 pounds of climbing gear, hauling sleds up to 120 pounds. The crampon is pretty good for all this, though it has been changed a lot over the years.

My take on the review on the REI website is that the person writing it (describes him/herself as "advanced" - which means what?) was expecting the snowshoe to do more than it was designed for. S/he talks about sliding and falling on traverses - which implies not on trails, which is what the 1025 is designed for. And s/he makes a comparison to the MSR Denali (which model?), which MSR intends for serious mountaineering use, not just trail walking.

I would suggest that if you are going to do serious backcountry Sierra travel for multi-day trips with a full pack, you should look at something different. Either the 1230/1235 or the MSR Ascent (Evo or Classic, probably with the extender tails at your weight).

4:59 p.m. on December 11, 2008 (EST)
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I would also suggest Faber snowshoes from Quebec who make the best wooden/babiche shoes since Bastien Bros. and Chestnut quit; they produce EXCELLENT "high-tech." models as well. My other suggestion for an all-around shoe is the "Gold" models by "Crescent Moon", my current favourites.

11:59 p.m. on December 11, 2008 (EST)
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Bill, in regards to that review, when do you reach the point where it's time to pack the snowshoes and put on the crampons?

When I did my basic mountaineering course in NZ, we just used crampons because the snow was packed pretty hard. I'm wondering if the reviewer thought he/she could expect snowshoes to be as good as crampons on steeps.

11:34 a.m. on December 12, 2008 (EST)
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Tom, it depends on the snow conditions. I can't tell from the review what the slope was (5 deg? 25 deg? 50 deg?) and how firm it was. I have seen people try to traverse a fairly steep slope on snowshoes where they clearly should have either cut steps (if they lacked crampons) or used crampons. Recall that the complaint was about traversing. You can go straight up a double diamond slope on snowshoes that is solid enough to walk on with just boots, if the shoes have good crampons, like the MSR Ascents or my "Perry era" Atlas (or the Atlas that were made to take a boot with real crampons). That's in the range of 35-40 deg (you also need heel lifts for this steep a slope). Obviously, it also depends heavily on the skill level of the snowshoer.

I suspect it was a case where the reviewer overstated his/her experience and skill level, and was traversing a slope where booting it or crampons was more appropriate.

Remember, too, learning to snowshoe is pretty easy - for level ground, walk 100 meters and you are as skilled at level ground as you will ever be. And most get as skilled at handling slopes as they will ever get with a couple hundred yards of uphill walking.

2:37 p.m. on December 12, 2008 (EST)
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Yeah, it's hard to tell what the reviewer was trying to do. I never saw anyone with snowshoes in NZ, but I presume they must use them some of the time. I was there in February, so it wasn't snowing and everywhere we were was packed hard, so snowshoes would have been redundant. We did a bit of cutting steps in my class, but just to get the idea as to how to do it since we had crampons.

9:26 p.m. on December 12, 2008 (EST)
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Please explain "cutting steps" in a little more detail.
Is this the same as "kicking steps" in a dirt slope with your boots?
One of the advantages I have found to boots with welted soles is that they dig in (kick in) better for me when ascending steep slopes with soft soil.

Anyway, I wish to learn more about snowshoeing, I've been reading along with interest. I have only been twice, on short trips with rented gear.

Thanks.

12:42 a.m. on December 13, 2008 (EST)
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"Cutting steps" is really "Old School". Back before really good crampons were invented, the way you got up steep snow and ice slopes was to use your alpenstock or an ax (wood-chopping variety) to chop steps to form a staircase. An alpenstock was a long hiking pole with a head shaped somewhat like the modern ice ax - with a pick and an adze, plus a steel point at the lower end of the staff. Mountain people in the Alps usually had a pattern of nails in the bottom of their boots, with the center nails being somewhat like a logger's hobnails, and by the late 19th Century, a type of nail around the edge of the boot called "tricouni". These were not as good as even the crude crampons of the day, but worked for moderate slopes. The modern crampon was invented by Eckenstein, and first used in the 1930s by climbers attacking the Great North Faces. With the modern crampon designs and ice tools developed and refined since the 1970s, step chopping has become almost obsolete, although it is a skill that anyone going up steep snow and ice slopes should know, just in case of failure or loss of the tools (just like you should know about the munter hitch, in case you lose your belay/descender device, and maybe even the dulfersitz, in case you lose everything except the rope).

No, trout, step chopping is not the same as kicking steps. Kicking steps requires nothing beyond a sturdy pair of boots, where step chopping requires some sort of tool. Proper technique for kicking steps (or "heeling down" on descent) is another skill that comes in handy at times - but neither work on water ice.

If you have been snowshoeing twice, you know at least 50%, probably more like 70-80% of all there is to know about snowshoeing technique.

1:34 a.m. on December 13, 2008 (EST)
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Thanks for the explanation, I have almost no experience in steep snow or ice but I enjoy learning none the less. Trekking poles are about as advanced as I get right now, but I do like steep terrain and have gotten better at it over the years, most of mine (terrain) is wet/mossy rocks and soil.
Who knows, I might yet get into some steep snow one day, after some instruction of course.

2:15 a.m. on December 13, 2008 (EST)
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Trout, I highly recommend taking an introductory mountaineering course. I took a ten day course in New Zealand, but courses like it are offered in the US by several companies Bill could recommend.

In my class, we learned basic rock climbing, rope use, including belaying, and placing protection. Then we moved to snow and ice and learned glacier travel, crevasse rescue, basic climbing technique using ropes, ice axe and crampons, setting belay anchors and how to dig a snow cave. We also learned self-arrest, which is among the most important skills you can learn for snow and ice travel. We did a bit of step cutting, but as Bill said, crampons have mostly superceded the need for that skill, but it is good to know. By the end of the class, we had the basic knowledge needed to climb moderate peaks, travel relatively safely across glaciers and build upon those skills to take on more demanding climbs.

7:48 a.m. on December 13, 2008 (EST)
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Hey Tom,
I would like to take a class, it may be a while yet for me.
I also want to travel some, right now getting my kids educated, and my work schedule has put things like that on the back burner. Being able to talk to you guys and learn as I wait is a big help. I think I would have a blast taking a course like that.

I have been in the Whites snowshoeing twice now and want to go again before winter is over, if work doesn't tie up all my time.
I have some friends there so that makes it much easier.

I guess step cutting is another one of those skills that is not needed much, but important to have. I'm a big believer in keeping the older skills alive and passing them on. I have found that a lot of times the old ways prove to be the best, or at least make a very good back up.

9:34 a.m. on December 13, 2008 (EST)
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I strongly agree and even taking a "refresher" course to learn newer and more advanced techniques is a good idea, IMHO. Here in Canada, we have the "Yamnuska Mountaineering School" and I have often wished I could attend their courses to learn to be better equipped for mountain treks.

We oftimes get so "hung up" on just what the best gear is that we tend to overlook skillsets and, SKILL is THE REAL "lifesaver" in wilderness situations. That does not mean that one uses "Boy Scout" type gear in serious wilderness uses, although some may try to have us believe that this is all that is required, but, learning HOW to do things and then practicing these is the basic and most important step to mountain proficiency, IMO.

1:35 a.m. on December 14, 2008 (EST)
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Thanks, you-all, for your comments. The 1025's are the only ones they have on the close-out sale ... no 1030's or 1035's.

So I'll just pass on this and keep on renting for now.

Thanks!

2:27 a.m. on December 14, 2008 (EST)
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Trout, you might find some weekend classes in the Whites or Daks. Since you are back East, you may want to join Views From the Top. Although it is really a New England site and you are further down south, NE might be your best resource for mountaineering classes. You need a sponsor to join, which I can do for you. I joined it a few years ago before the site owner restricted membership.

9:21 p.m. on December 14, 2008 (EST)
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I almost missed your post Tom,
Yes I would like to be a member of VFTT.
I visited the site, I read the registration page and some of the FAQ.
I appreciate sites that value clean, constructive dialog between members and are intent on keeping it that way.
I am currently a member of only two sites, Trailspace and a site about green building. I used to frequent some other sites but the constant childish bickering was too much for me & a waste of my time.

Anyway, thanks I would like to join VFTT.

1:25 a.m. on December 16, 2008 (EST)
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Mike, did you get the email I sent Darren for VFTT?

9:02 a.m. on December 16, 2008 (EST)
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Yes Tom I have.
You should also have a reply from me.

8:22 p.m. on December 16, 2008 (EST)
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...the constant childish bickering was too much for me and a waste of my time..., well, IMHO, truer words were never spoken and I simply avoid certain sites where this is prevalent.

One thing I have found amusing on sites is that those with thousands of posts, averaging several per day, over a few years are usually the same ones with the emotional immaturity to initiate bickering and slagging. I guess that the glare of the computer screen must be like the proverbial "red rag" to a bull!

It is usually pleasant here and that is why I come here as I have better things to do in my retirement from a very active bush life than engage in peurile azzbusting with some victim of what my R.N. "postgrad" wife calls "interrupted development". So, Trout, I really hear what you are saying.

Well, gotta go feed my Rottweilers, my little girl just finished first, again, in her second show and is just an adorable doll. Dang! I DO love dogs!

8:41 p.m. on December 16, 2008 (EST)
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HaHa, yes the glare may be a red flag indeed.
Some people just like to argue maybe, I don't mind the occasional debate but I prefer to keep it civil.
I agree, it is usually pleasant here.

Congrats on your Rotties win.

9:44 p.m. on December 16, 2008 (EST)
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i highly recomend renting a pair of traditonal snowshoes before you buy. i have used both kinds and prefer the rawhide over any kind of deck. the decks can fill up with snow and become way heavy.
i have 2 pair of the rawhide ones. one pair is laced with very wide spacing around the edges of the shoe with a dense pattern near the center. this helps dump the snow from the top of the shoe yet gives plenty of flotation in the worst conditions. my other pair of rawhide is a pretty uniform pattern and is a little better than the decked shoes but inferior to the first pair. i have not used any of the aluminum shoes that are laced.
the rawhide is also much quiter than the aluminum shoes that i have used. both pair of my rawhides are tubbs. one pair has a pivot binding with a crampon. i like the modern binding better.
the wooden, rawhide shoes are most vunerable when temperatures are at or above freezing when water is present. otherwise i have found them to be quite durable.
gene praters book on snowshoeing has a good waterproof recipe for wood snowshoes that works the best in the wet conditons.
i ski when i can and snowshoe when i must

10:14 p.m. on December 16, 2008 (EST)
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I have been looking around for a modern pair - have a wooden pair from the old days that lean next to the fireplace, near the Christmas tree
(And, I will wear them outside when we get some snow). I live in the Boston area and shopped at a llbean, EMS, and REI in the Suburban malls and was surprised that none of the stores had "mountaineer" type models. They had Tubbs, MSR, and Atlas in the recreational models.

2:50 p.m. on December 18, 2008 (EST)
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I'm still mulling over what to do about this. Bill S, you suggested that for my weight (~180+) plus pack, I should consider the 1030's or even 1035's.

I kinda doubt I'm going to do much winter backpacking. It's possible, but hasn't happened yet :). However, even on day hikes, I tend to carry quite a bit of weight, what with the 15 lbs of camera gear, water, extra clothes, food, and so on.

Should I "play it safe" and just go with the 35's? Will that larger size be a significant hindrance in terms of maneuverability and such?

8:45 p.m. on December 18, 2008 (EST)
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I am not Bill, but, for what my opinion may be worth to you, I WOULD definitely go with the larger shoes. You may well become much more active in winter trekking and carry even more camera gear plus encounter verying snow conditions, so, the 35's are a more versatile option.

I have "postholed" for miles when issued shoes that were too small and this is just gutbusting work which takes all the fun out of being out there....not that logging inspections at -20*F were exactly fun!

12:04 a.m. on December 19, 2008 (EST)
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A couple of years ago, I rented a pair of Tubbs that I took to Yosemite where we had some deep powder for a change. It hadn't settled or crusted over yet. I weigh about 135 or so and had a 40 or 45 lb. pack. The shoes were probably 25" and I was sinking in about a foot once I was off the packed trail.

Based on that, I would think bigger would be better for someone your size with a pack on in the fluffy stuff. If it isn't fluffy, then snowshoes are kind of pointless. I walked all the way down the Tasman Glacier in February and not a snowshoe in sight. Oh, that's NZ and Feb is summer down there.

Oh yeah, don't forget poles, even cheap ones. Falling over with a big pack is no fun. Poles won't totally prevent that, but will make it less likely.

11:26 a.m. on December 19, 2008 (EST)
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kutenay and Tom said it all - go with the larger shoes, and use poles.

I have to disagree with lazya4 about the laced versus decked snowshoes. I have used a wide variety of snowshoes over the years, from wood bearpaws and the long Yukon cargo carriers, in the laced rawhide variety, to racing, "light trail", and expedition in the decked variety (plus the MSR carbon fiber, which are excellent, though a bit noisy on hardpack, and even the cheap plastic egg-crate which I strongly recommend avoiding). I have never found the snow pileup on top of the shoes to be a problem. The hinge for the boot is partly for the purpose of letting the snow drop off as you stride along. Even when hauling a sled that accumulated 20-30 pounds of snow an hour in a blizzard (requiring frequent stops to dump the snow load off), I never had any significant accumulation on the snowshoes themselves. My accumulated mileage on snowshoes is at least a couple thousand miles, including several week-long treks where we went 10-15 miles a day for the full trip, and ranging from Sierra concrete (and New England concrete) to wet sticky stuff in the Sierra, NH Whites, and Cascades, to the superlight fluffy powder you often find in the Teton backcountry, Wasatch, and the upper parts of the Alaska Range (you really sink down in the light powder, even with large snowshoes - and in that stuff, it matters not one bit whether you have decked or laced shoes). Then again, in the deep powdery stuff, skis are far better than snowshoes.

12:42 p.m. on December 19, 2008 (EST)
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Kutenay, Tom, Bill, thanks for the feedback. I'll go for the xx35's when I make the purchase.

As for poles ... each time I've rented snowshoes, poles were supplied, but I ended up leaving them in the car. They seemed to just get in the way .... visualize me with my pack on, and my big camera bag slung over one shoulder, and then visualize me also trying to deal with poles. It's pretty awkward :).

1:11 p.m. on December 19, 2008 (EST)
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bheiser1,
The obvious solution is to leave the pack in the car, get a camera pack (Lowe and Tamrac make ones for every size of camera outfit short of a view camera), and take the camera gear. You don't need things like tent, sleeping bag, and food when you are taking photos on a week-long backcountry snowshoeing trip anyway ;)

Or, get a sherpa to lug the camera gear and have each lens and camera body at the ready, so you can grab the right one instantly - sort of like a golf caddy.

Obviously, it depends on how much gear is needed for the trip. More seriously, you can use a sled or pulk (as in my avatar), assuming you have cut the gear (both the camping stuff and camera gear) down to the essentials. If the primary objective is photography, I generally think about what sort of photos I intend to take, then select a set of 2 or 3 lenses to go with the DSLR, polarizers for each lens (essential on snow), and maybe a remote flash for fill, with a more sophisticated P&S as the backup. The extra lenses, flash and filters go in the top flap pocket of the pack, with my light tripod (Gitzo Traveler) strapped to the side of the pack. No need for an extra camera bag. Although I prefer prime lenses, backcountry shooting calls for wide range zooms, doing the distortion correction in Photoshop where it is visible (the pincushion and barrel distortion in all zooms is just a couple clicks in Photoshop and isn't all that noticeable in the vast majority of wilderness scenics or animal shots). So the lenses are from a 12-24, 18-200 or 28-300, sometimes an 80-400 and sometimes an 85 macro (the 28-300 is somewhat macro to 1/4 size, where the 85 macro does larger than 1:1). When I was shooting film, the lens selection was 24, 55 micro, and 135 prime lenses most of the time with a 24-105 zoom sometimes when I went with a single lens.

One thing that adds a bit on extended trips (like Antarctica) is the foldable solar panel for recharging the batteries. It is 28 watts and folds to 8x10 inches, and will recharge the batteries in 2 hours from full discharge, if the sun is out (not a problem in Antarctica in their summer).

Sometimes I leave the tripod and just take a hiking pole/monopod.

5:49 p.m. on December 19, 2008 (EST)
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Bill S, you sure know how to give a guy "gear envy" :-P
One day I'll have a lens selection like what you described, a nice light carbon fiber tripod, etc, etc...

But, yeah, if it turns out I really do need poles, I'm sure I can find a way to carry my gear a little more creatively than what I've been doing. My usual day hike pack is my Redwing 3100 ... which I (believe it or not) easily fill up with extra clothing, food, etc) on any kind of serious day hike. My tripod (a heavy Bogen 3021Pro) fits nicely in the side mesh pocket. I can probably find a way to cram the camera into the pack somehow...

6:33 p.m. on December 19, 2008 (EST)
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When you have been collecting gear for as many years as I have, it's easy to collect a big pile of gear. Including a lot of bad choices.

8:27 p.m. on December 19, 2008 (EST)
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I gotta agree, we elderly geezers with the battered bods and greying bristles DO oftimes have a collection of gear that many envy and have reached the age where we can usually afford whatever we desire....well, not a new Unimog...


BUT, you youngun's did not grow to "maturity", itself a relative term when dealing with the '60s generation reading that dammed "Whole Earth Catalogue" and thus did not spend mega-bux, earned by second jobs on gear that was "FAROUT MAN" and was absolute CRAP in the mountains....I still have a backache from one particular internal frame pack that even Galen Rowell raved about, my Camp Trails was far better at about 1/3 the cost......

Bill will remember it, I'm sure. So, despair not, we made our mistakes and hung our heads in embarrassment, too!

10:14 p.m. on December 19, 2008 (EST)
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Hello Kutenay,

I admire your interest in Gary James Shelton's books.I have all 3 of Gary's bear books and they are the ones to read and learn from...I see that Gary has two training guide books available from 2004...have you ever met him?

Thanks for your time,

ridgewalker

12:38 a.m. on December 20, 2008 (EST)
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No, I was in Bella Coola-Hagensborg in July, 2005 and was going to call Gary as we know people in common at least slightly. However, it was beginning to rain heavily and my buddy was concerned about the "big hill" becoming greasy and wanted to head back to "the Puddle", so, I missed that chance.

I do know several bear "experts" here in BC/AB and have a little experience myself. I do strongly advocate Gary's methods of bear defence, however, I do not agree with his politics or enviro-politics and I am not convinced about several of his biological conclusions.

I admire him, tho', as I think he is a very honest and honourable man and has done his best to present what he considers right. I do not know of better info. for the beginner than in his original book and there is relatively little written info. of this type, anyway. I DO NOT agree with those who state that the wilderness is "the Grizzlies territory" and humans are intruders there....Suzuki, whom I knew and despise being an example.

Me, I kinda enjoy watching bears and would hate like hell to see Grizzlies gone from BC, but, I think that it will eventually happen as people do here what they have done in the western US and alpine Europe. As e.e. cummings once put it so well, ...pity this busy monster, manunkind, progress is a comfortable disease....

But, we will keep trying to evolve a truely ecologically sound society, one hopes!

2:51 p.m. on December 21, 2008 (EST)
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Re: Gary Shelton books

Yes, other than Gary's 3 books there are a few books that speak of bear attacks..but they are not of the same level. Gary has lived in the Bella Coola area since mid 60s' and he has written his books from his experiences in bear country over that time. The attack stories that he writes about have an extensive amount of detailed investigation carried out by Gary...he interviewed many of the victims and witnesses.

Have you read the book "Black Grizzly of Whiskey Creek" by Sid Marty? A good read about the events of the 1980 Banff bear attacks...

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