I could just the make out the coarse tips of brown hair. My head was twisted tightly down to the left as the weight of my body crammed my head and shoulders deeper into the snow. If a skier or snowboarder happened by it would definitely look like I was head first in a tree well...which I kind of was. Any slight movement and I kept losing the only view deep inside the bear's hollowed lair.
I found this newly constructed bear den last October and did not linger in case I left human scent. I made note of the large crack above the entrance where I could possibly peek in later during winter.
Because of the high snowpack, I've had to "gently" remove about 50-cm of snow to expose the top portion of the crack. I never dig down to the entrance to avoid disturbing bears; I just wanted to know if the den was occupied. Inside there could be a single bear or a mother and cub.
There are two brown, black bear mothers on the west side of Whistler - Daisy and Brownie, each with 1 black cub.
With 340-cm of snow still covering the den's entrance on the down-slope side, it was technology's turn. With great difficulty (because I wanted to be quiet) I wriggled myself back up and out of the tree well. I stepped back from the tree and dug out from my pack, a small square, tough-looking plastic box that housed a remote camera. I fixed and locked the camera to a tree about 8 meters away and aimed the lens at the vicinity of the entrance. That's not as easy as it sounds, as it's tricky knowing where that entrance is under so much snow. The camera will take three quick photos every time it senses movement during the day and again at night using infrared. Last spring on April 16, Katie plus 2 cubs were remotely photographed emerging from a den on the north side of Whistler. The camera recorded emergence date, time, and ambient temperature during each captured image.
Bears begin emerging from winter dens in April. When I monitored bear use at the Whistler landfill from 1993-2006, male bears would frequently emerge the first week of March to feed on skunk cabbage and garbage. Regardless of the deep snow pack, most lone males and females with yearlings (cubs born Jan 2010) will tunnel out of dens before May. Mothers with cubs-of-this-year (cubs born Jan 2011) emerge last as late as mid-May.
There are many triggers that "tell" a bear when it's time to wake up. The key trigger is fat depletion and how a bear feels.