Caution urged following fatal cougar attack in Banff

Officials in Banff are urging residents and tourists to be cautious, but not to over-react to a fatal cougar attack near the town. Francis Frost, 30, of Canmore was killed by a mountain lion Tuesday while cross-country skiing at Lake Minnewanka.

Wardens say the animal apparently crouched behind a tree, waited until Frost passed by, then jumped onto her back. The attack occurred about 12 kilometres northeast of the townsite. Chief warden Ian Syme calls the attack "very unusual."

It was the most serious of three confrontations with cougars that day. But Syme believes the cougar was not the same one that attacked a dog and confronted a woman near an elk carcass earlier in the day. And Wednesday night, a man checking on his dog found a cougar on his front porch.

On Thursday, park officials captured the cougar they believe attacked the dog. They are trying to determine whether it should be destroyed.

Syme says cougars may be living close to town as they look for food. As a result, he is urging caution.

Banff Mayor Dennis Shuler says most residents know the rewards of living in the Rocky Mountains come with a price. "Every year in the park there's people killed in avalanches, there's the odd bear killing. It's a fact of life living in this area," he says. "It could have been any one of us."

While people may be in a state of shock, Shuler says they accept it was "an isolated tragic incident that's highly unlikely to occur again. But it's still very, very unfortunate."

The attack occurred only 300 metres from Frost's car, says her sister, Amy. "It's a trail we ski all the time." She says the family doesn't blame anyone for the tragedy. "What happened to her is such a rarity; we were saying earlier she had a better chance of being hit by lightning."

Still, wardens are warning people to keep their eyes open and not to venture into the back country or wooded areas alone. They are also asking them to report any signs of cougars. Wardens are using dogs to try to find the one and possibly two cougars believed still in the Banff townsite area.

Frost was born and raised in Edmonton and was well known in the local arts community. In the early 1990s she was a dancer with Edmonton's Ballet North Dance School & Performing Company.

"She was a lovely girl, a very talented person, she was one of those people who wasn't limited to one thing," says Paul Reich, a former dancer with Frost at Ballet North.

Last year, Frost was named Dancer-in-Residence at the Banff Centre. She was also a former interpreter and guide at Kananaskis provincial park.

Frost is from a prominent Edmonton family. She is the granddaughter of Ray Lemieux, an Edmonton scientist who won Canada's first Gold Medal for science and engineering.