Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Wolf tracker uses Altai Skis for speed, mobility during surveys

Ray Robertson uses Altai Skis while doing winter wolf monitoring for conservation groups and agencies in Okanogan County. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

Ray Robertson, who does wolf monitoring in the Okanogan County region, is among the growing number of wildlife professionals who are using Altai Skis in their work.

Winter is prime time to find tracks and follow wolves, put up trail cameras and get data on the region’s wolf packs for conservation groups and the U.S. Forest Service.

Snow typically concentrates wolf packs into ranges of about 50 square miles, down from up to 350 squre miles during fall.

“I used to do my work on snowshoes and backcountry skis with skins,” said Robertson, who’s been tracking wolves since 2009, a year after the Lookout Pack was confirmed in the Okanogan as Washington’s first wolf pack in some 70 years.

Like several wildlife researchers in Yellowstone Park, Robertson has increased his mobility by “skishoeing” on Hoks, a short Altai ski with build-in skin for climbing.

“I try not to disturb the animals or the area any more than necessary as I work to get a count on the wolves, what they’re eating, what terrain they’re using – everything we can learn about them.”

The job requires going through a variety of terrain, including brush and trees.

“On the Hoks, I can go slow to look for details, like blood in the urine of a female wolf, which can indicate that it’s in heat,” he said.

“Yet I can cover, say, 6 miles no problem, and make good time on the downhills coming out.”

Sometimes he’s gone farther. “When you get on a good track, it’s hard to turn around when you want to see if the wolf went over the next ridge,” he said.