Fact check: Photo of stuffed mascot at Arizona ski resort goes viral with false story – USA TODAY

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The claim: Bear took two-hour trip on ski lift in Vail, Colo.

“This was on the news. A full-grown brown bear is safe after a nearly two-hour ride on a chair-lift at a ski resort near Vail, Colorado!”

That’s the beginning of a Facebook post that over 31,000 users have shared since it was posted on June 18, which captions a photo showing a faint silhouette of what appears to be a bear on a ski-lift. 

The creator of the post, Mike Roman, claims the bear activated the ski-lift and boarded a chair on its own — a remarkable feat for an animal without opposable thumbs. USA TODAY reached out to Roman for comment.

It’s unclear how invested Roman was in the veracity of the story — he replied to skeptics’ comments with photos of Yogi Bear, the subject of a popular American cartoon that took place in “Jellystone Park” — but the thousands of shares suggest some users believed their eyes.

But this story is fabricated.

While news outlets have reported about bears doing everything from chasing Romanian skiers down the slopes to wandering around Philadelphia, online searches did not yield reports of a bear riding a ski-lift in Vail recently. 

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The photo actually shows a stuffed bear (named Bart) riding a ski lift in his long-running role as mascot of the Ski Valley resort in Mt. Lemmon, Ariz. 

Photo taken in Mt. Lemmon, Ariz., not Vail, Colo.

The photograph was first posted online in 2012 by a Reddit user who made a similar claim. “Took a ride on a ski lift today and was joined by a bear…” the user captioned it. It then made its way to r/bearsdoinghumanthings, a subreddit about, well, bears doing human things. 

Peter Landsman, who maintains a database of North American ski lift locations and has “personally visited nearly every ski lift in the United States,” disputed the Facebook post’s claim that the lift was located in Vail, Colo., in a Twitter thread on June 19. 

Landsman identified the lift as a Heron-Poma lift at a resort in Mt. Lemmon, Ariz., which he told USA TODAY he had visited in person. Trees in a photo of the Mt. Lemmon lift from his database of North American ski lifts match those in the viral photo.

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At least two separately posted photos of a stuffed bear in a Mt. Lemmon chairlift confirm Landsman’s assertion. One photo titled “Black Bear on Chairlift – Mount Lemmon, AZ,” posted to Flickr in 2006, shows a stuffed bear sitting in the same style of chair in the same position as in the viral photo. A reddit user posted a similar photo in 2012. The user told USA TODAY that they believe they took the photo on a family trip to Mt. Lemmon.  

Photo features Bart, the stuffed bear that has ridden Mt. Lemmon’s ski lift for years

Graham Davies, the manager of Mt. Lemmon Ski Resort, confirmed the post was indeed a photo of stuffed bear Bart on the resort’s chairlift. He told USA TODAY that Bart “gets in every morning and is taken off every night” with the help of staff.

“We’ve done it for probably 20 years,” Davies said in a phone interview. “The only days he doesn’t ride are when it’s snowing or rainy.”

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In winter months, Davies said, Bart dons a ski jacket, and he can often be seen wearing an employee uniform in the summer. He’s weathered the years quite well: he’s only been replaced once, after an enthusiastic guest of the resort bought the original bear.

Details in user’s story don’t pass a reality check

Even if we ignore the photo and imagine a real bear could have wandered onto a ski lift, the details the Facebook story recounts aren’t possible. 

First, the Facebook user claims his tale was “on the news.” Bears on the loose have been covered a handful of times by news outlets in recent years — just this February, a video of a black bear chasing a skier down a Romanian slope went viral, as USA TODAY reported — but extensive online searches turned up no news reports of a bear riding a ski lift in Vail, Colo., or anywhere else in the U.S., for that matter. (Snopes also searched and found nothing in French-language news after seeing the photo on a French blog.) 

Second, the post claims that a “brown bear, fully grown” boarded the lift. But Colorado Public Radio reported that brown bears, also known as grizzlies in North America, haven’t been seen in Colorado since 1979 — and that was already 26 years after they were declared extinct in the state.

And third, the user writes with satirical flair that “Somehow, the bear got aboard the ski-lift and managed to activate the lift and turn it on!” That’s not possible, though.

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“The viral post is funny, but as someone who works on chairlifts, I know there is no way a bear could start a lift, let alone stay on it for hours,” Landsman said. 

Our rating: False

We rate the claim that a bear rode a Vail ski lift FALSE, based on our research. The picture in question was actually taken at an Arizona ski hill and shows a stuffed bear that has been placed on the lift as a running joke for years.

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