Bear bells are standard equipment for hikers in this part of Canada. The bells – which look a lot like Christmas ornaments – are hung from backpacks and belts. They give off a tinny jingle meant to scare off any bears in the area . . . unless they like Christmas music.
I always thought people with bear bells were a little paranoid. Then I came to Whistler. The site of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Whistler – which is just two hours by car from Vancouver – isn’t exactly a rugged wilderness. In the swanky ski village, you’ve got your choice of five-star hotels, multiple sushi bars and plenty of alpine-chic clubs with techno music and antler chandeliers.
But just outside the village, the mountains close back in. A network of provincial parks links snow-covered peaks with glacial lakes and huge tracts of unsettled wilderness. All of which is great for hikers and also, apparently, for bears. Driving to a trailhead on the outskirts of town, I see my first black bear of the trip. It’s six feet from nose to tail, with a head the size of a toaster oven. As I drive by, it ambles up a highway embankment with the unhurried walk of an animal at the top of the food chain.