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Footprints in the Snow


Photos: Two of explorer Eric Shipton's famous Yeti tracks found during a 1951 expedition to Mount Everest (source: Christie's, via IBTimes)

For those of us who live in cooler climates, the onset of winter brings exciting opportunities to study footprints left in the snow. While some footprints, such as those of deer, (two separate hooves in a split-heart shape) raccoon (front paw prints look like tiny human hands) and rabbit (four ovals, two long and two short) are easy to recognize, others can be easily confused. The footprints of bears, for example, are surprisingly human-like and can sometimes be mistaken for the prints of a Sasquatch. 

How can we tell the difference between a bear print, a bare human footprint and a possible Sasquatch print made in snow?

Sasquatch The Legend asked Dr. Jeff Meldrum, Professor of Anatomy & Anthropology, Department of Biological Sciences at Idaho State University, for some guidance.

Bear/Sasquatch/Human print reference photo: courtesy of Dr. Jeff Meldrum

"The specific characteristics (of prints in snow) are the same as those for a print in any other medium. It should be quite straightforward following the tracks of a creature walking in snow, providing the potential for comparisons in differing snow conditions of depth, moisture etc. Trackways do not mysteriously stop and start, as has been alleged. The trackway of a bounding animal may be mistaken by the novice as a 'straight-line' bipedal trackway of a Sasquatch. The evidence of four hooves or paws will likely be readily visible somewhere along the trackway. Cherry-picking examples not allowed. The straight-line appearance attributed to Sasquatch tracks is much overstated," stated Dr. Meldrum. (A handy, waterproof field guide for Sasquatch tracking, written by Dr. Meldrum, is available here: Sasquatch Field Guide.)

Sasquatch The Legend also turned to Bigfoot evidence analyst and educator Cliff Barackman for his advice about tracks in the snow. "Many people misidentify normal animal movement through the snow for Sasquatch footprints," Barackman states. "Animals like foxes, coyotes etc. can hop through snow and leave impressions from their passing that approximate the size and shape of Sasquatch prints. These can even suggest a deeper heel (made by the hind foot of the hopping animal) and even some toes (left by the front paws of a hopping animal," he continues. "They are in a tightrope pattern, with no straddle, as Sasquatch prints are often reported to be. However, this tightrope pattern is often overstated by the Bigfoot community. There is nearly always some straddle between the prints in a Sasquatch trackway," continues Barackman. 

Barackman points to clear toe prints as a key point of track differentiation. "To avoid all confusion with Sasquatch prints in the snow, check that there are signs of five toes. If there is any ambiguity, then follow the trackway until you see signs of them. There should be quite a few footprints to see, and at least some of them will show signs of all five toes," explains Barackman. 


Sasquatch track photo: Paul Freeman, used with the permission of the Freeman family

Sasquatch The Legend also asked noted author and conference speaker Thom Cantrall for his insight about tracking the prints of Sasquatch vs human vs bear.

“There are definite indicators. #1 are loose, unfettered toes…their (Sasquatch) toes have never been contained within shoes. Ours have spent their life in constriction and they show it. You can see this if you take your shoes off and walk in wet sand."

Sasquatch casts photo: courtesy of Thom Cantrall

"#2 is the definite arch in our feet…if you find an arch, it’s not a Sasquatch print. Most importantly—this is something very few know, so hoaxers don’t—due to the way Sasquatch walk, i.e. their compliant gait, when their foot lands, it will fall flat on the ground. Then as they continue forward, the heel comes up and eventually the mid-tarsal break occurs and now, all the weight is on the front half of the foot only, causing it to be deeper than the back half. "

Human footprints in sand photo: courtesy of Thom Cantrall

"This is the opposite of us, where we pole vault over our knee and land heel first with a very heavy heel strike, then come down on the front part of our foot, so the deepest part of our foot is the heel.”

Sasquatch print photo: courtesy of Thom Cantrall

So essentially, per Cantrall, human prints have arches, constricted toes, and the deepest part of the print is the heel, while Sasquatch have no arch, freely moving toes, flat footprints, and the deepest part of the print is the front part of the foot. 

Cantrall, author of such works as Sasquatch: from Myth to Mystery, Sasquatch the Living Legend, and Sasquatch: the Search for a New Man, provides more insight into Sasquatch tracking and footprint identification in his published works, available on our website

Dr. Jeff Meldrum, in his bestselling book Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science, also points to the heel as a way to distinguish human versus Sasquatch prints.

“Given its extreme size and weight, the Sasquatch has an even more pronounced heel and a broader and well-rounded heel pad than a human,” states Meldrum.

What about bear footprints? 

Bear footprint photo: courtesy of Thom Cantrall

Per Dr. Meldrum, “The five-toed hind paws of a bear also display an uncanny similarity to human feet, save the presence of claws and the fact that the shortest toe of the bear paw is the inside, or medial toe, opposite the condition of the human foot.”

Meldrum goes on to say that claws sometimes do not show up in footprints, so “the presence or absence of discernible claw marks cannot be relied upon as a distinguishing characteristic.”

According to the North American Bear Center (NABC) website, while bears do have five toes, just like humans, bear prints have distinctive characteristics that anyone tracking them can look for. The foot of a bear is thick horizontally and bears walk with much of their weight on the outside of their foot. Bears also have claws, but like Meldrum, the NABC asserts that claws are only sometimes, but not always, visible in footprints. 

Bear in berry patch on Mount Rainier, WA (author photo)

Black and brown bears hibernate in dens during the winter months, so bear footprints should be less frequently seen during snowy wintertime, typically between the months of November and April. However, bears can and do occasionally wake up and wander around during winter months, as this fascinating article in the Kenai Peninsula Clarion details. 

One issue with bear prints that both Meldrum and the NABC mention is that bears often “overstep,” meaning that the hind foot of a bear steps into the print the bear already made with its front paw. This situation can sometimes make a bear’s footprint look much bigger than it really is. 

The walking pattern and spacing of footprints is also important to look at, per Meldrum, because bears have a four-legged pattern, with alternating front and back paws, while humans have a two-legged pattern with a longer stride length than a bear. 

Additionally, people tracking footprints in snow should be aware that melting and refreezing of the snow can cause the outlines of the original print to change and become distorted. Fresh footprints are better for tracking than old footprints. 

While there are similarities among the prints of humans, bears and Sasquatch, there are also singular characteristics that an informed observer can use to differentiate between them. Of course, as with anything, practice helps.

For many, a day spent examining prints in a beautiful, snowy forest is a day well spent, no matter which footprints are seen. 

Photo: unknown print, found by author on a trail near Skykomish, Washington.. Anyone want to take a guess about what made this?

by Christina Hebert


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