The Humble Origins of the ‘Fattest Tournament on Earth’

Mike Fitz, a former park ranger at Katmai National Park and the founder of Fat Bear Week, used to keep “a facade of neutrality.” Now he’s naming names. – 

The first time Mike Fitz saw a bear in the wild, in 2007, he did what he was trained to do: He made a lot of noise. – 

“You can read and listen to all of the advice — it helps prepare you mentally, but at the same time I’m thinking, ‘Oh, that is a bear in front of me, looking at me,’” Mr. Fitz said. “What am I going to do now?”

This particular bear, on top of Dumpling Mountain in Katmai National Park in Alaska, however, was not exactly an imminent threat.

The bear was about a quarter-mile away from Mr. Fitz, and his yells across the vast landscape barely made a dent. “I hadn’t figured out that making noise is appropriate in certain situations,” he said.

 “The bear probably heard me and thought, ‘What is this two-legged creature doing?’”

The encounter proved to be a formative moment for Mr. Fitz, and for millions of bear fans around the world. 

Mr. Fitz is the founder of Fat Bear Week, now in its ninth year. What began as a way for Mr. Fitz, a former park ranger, to engage with visitors to Katmai has “spiraled.”

“I thought it would be a quirky thing Katmai could do every year, and it is, but I did not expect it to be this popular,” he said.

Last year’s contest attracted more than 600,000 votes; the winner of Fat Bear Junior 2022, a spinoff competition for cubs that ran on Sept. 28 and 29, received more than 69,000 votes.

No. 909’s Yearling was crowned champion and is now moving on to the adult competition.