Using a ski pole, a 78-year-old man warded off a moose that was attacking him Thursday on Independence Pass after the cantankerous creature had knocked him down, according to witnesses on the scene.
The man, Alfred Braun of Aspen, was not injured in the mid-morning attack, even though the moose repeatedly tried to stomp him with its front hooves, the witnesses said.
“He was fearless,” snowboarder Justin Gordon said of Braun. Gordon, a bartender at Bootsy Bellows in Aspen, didn’t see the attack, but he arrived in time to help out in the aftermath of the incident.
“The moose tried to trample him and somehow missed. He must be the luckiest man ever,” Gordon added.
Becki Braun, Alfred’s daughter, said she was walking with her father above the Independence Pass winter gate when the incident occurred. Becki was handling dogs in her care while Alfred was uphilling on cross-country skis.
Becki said the dogs weren’t barking or trying to irritate the moose in other ways. She said she feared the publicity she and her father would receive from the incident.
“We don’t really like attention,” she said. “It’s an incredible story and unbelievable, but what happened really happened.”
Alfred Braun was not physically harmed, she said, adding that he doesn’t consider the incident a case of survival.
“He’s a bad-ass Austrian,” Becki said of her immigrant father, who has lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for 50-plus years. “He considers himself lucky that he wasn’t hurt, but he actually fought that moose off.”
Doran Laybourn, one of the witnesses, said he was at the winter gate parking lot around 9:30 a.m., preparing to take a snowmobile up the pass for a snowboarding excursion with Brandon Huttenlocher and Gordon, who had not yet arrived.
Suddenly the moose came charging past them and was headed up the pass. The snow on the road was about 6 feet deep.
“We were about to start our day of backcountry snowboarding and all of a sudden this moose starts hauling past us,” Laybourn said. “I’m like, ‘Whoa, dude, you don’t see that every day.’”
Laybourn and Huttenlocher left the lot for a popular snowboarding spot called The Pillows, past the Weller Lake trailhead. As they turned a blind corner, the moose was ahead of them and the Brauns were on the other side of the animal.
“There were two people and some dogs, and we knew it was going to be bad because there’s so much snow up there. There was nowhere for anybody to go,” he said.
The moose honed in on Alfred Braun, Laybourn said. Alfred used his ski pole to hit the moose in the face and the moose knocked him over.
“From our view, 50 yards or so away, it looked like the moose was on its hind legs, just killing the guy, stomping with reckless abandon,” Laybourn said.
But Braun, who somehow avoided injury, was able to poke the moose in the belly, and the animal ran away.
“It was crazy to watch and even crazier to see that the man wasn’t touched,” Laybourn said.
One of the dogs in Becki Braun’s charge, Juno, a blue heeler, ran ahead of the moose, effectively leading it away from the scene. Alfred joined the snowboarders with the intent of rescuing Juno. The animals were running in the direction of the Weller Lake Campground area.
“The dog kept going up and up toward the campground,” Laybourn said. “We kept driving up the pass to try to get Juno to come back to us, but she wouldn’t. The moose kept turning back and looking at us, as if it might charge us. We were giving it a lot of space, but we kept following.”
When the snowmobile party arrived near the campground, a frightened Juno was found, having burrowed herself into the snow. The moose apparently had split off to the right of the road, toward the river.
“We put Juno and Alfred on my snowmobile, and drove them down to their car,” Laybourn said.
It was a fairly long ordeal. He estimated that nearly two hours had passed from the time he initially saw the moose in the parking lot to the point where everyone was safe back at the winter gate.
Later, after spending some time at The Pillows, the snowboarders saw the moose again and took photographs of the creature.
“The moose was stubborn and just kept hanging out near the road,” Laybourn said.
Becki Braun said a crew from the T-Lazy-7 ranch was in the area as well, assisting with the search for Juno and ensuring that everybody was safe.
“It really was a case of community cooperation and locals helping other locals out,” she said.
She believes the moose was a female, not full-sized, and was probably just hovering close to the road because the snow was so deep elsewhere.
“Nobody was trying to bother that poor moose,” Braun said.
Laybourn said he wanted to tell the story to warn the community and Independence Pass recreationalists that a moose was in the area.
“I have to credit Alfred Braun for being so brave — so quick to react and just as quick to fight back,” he said. “Most people would just cower, turn their back and get stomped.
“He basically said, ‘It’s you or me, buddy, and it’s not going to be me.’”