Shaggy, snow-white and surefooted, mountain goats are iconic dwellers of some of North America's most sublime high country. For many roadtrippers and backpackers, these beasts draw the beauty of yawning cirque basins and cloud-splitting peaks to the perfect point. 

Soft, fuzzy and laidback as they may appear, though, mountain goats are nothing to mess around with. Just ask a hiker named Kevin Slider, who was wandering the snowy barrens of Mount Timpanogos in Utah's Wasatch Range at sunrise when he encountered a lone mountain goat in its short, svelte summer coat.

Slider, who's often seen goats on his regular hikes up "Timp", started filming the stocky animal – a mature male, or billy – as it approached him. He quickly became unnerved, though, as the goat got closer and its demeanour became more aggressive.

Speaking to Deseret News, Slider noted the goat seemed to amplify its attitude when he got to his feet from the kneeling position he was in at the start of the encounter. "I think when I stood up it was kind of more of a threat, maybe," he said. "Like I wanted to fight, maybe." 

He added, "It almost looked like he was stalking, just kind of the way he moseyed up to me."

In a separate interview with Salt Lake City’s KSL Broadcasting, Slider spoke about his vulnerable position on the mountainside. "There was nowhere I could go," he said. "I was in the middle of a snowfield. [The goat] was just solid muscle, and I thought, if he gets me on the ground, I could be a dead man."

Sadly, there's precedent for such a statement. In October 2010, a mountain goat fatally gored a hiker in the thigh on Klahhane Ridge in Washington State's Olympic Mountains, which have seen their share of antagonistic goat encounters. Shortly after that incident, Olympic National Park rangers tracked down the offending 350-pound billy and shot it.

Slider's confrontation turned out better, harrowing as it was. The goat came way too close for comfort; glared, reared and darted at him; and shook and whipped its dagger-like horns, but ultimately didn't make contact. Eventually it headed downslope, only to wheel around and run toward the man again – at which time, Slider told Deseret News, "I hit the trail and never looked back."

Mountain goats – which aren't actually true goats, occupying their very own "goat-antelope" genus – certainly have a feisty slant to their nature. Females, or nannies, can be testier with each other than is typical for most ungulates, and also aren't opposed to punishing an overzealous suitor.

Billies, meanwhile, posture over breeding rights, and may fight if ritual fails – a potentially serious business given those ten-inch blades on their heads. Rutting goats don't butt heads like mountain sheep, but rather slash at one another's flanks.

When it comes to evading predators – mainly wolves and pumas, and occasionally grizzly bears – goats typically flee for cliffs or rocky slopes, relying on their superior nimbleness to navigate precipitous terrain. But they'll also actively defend themselves and their kids if necessary. Biologists observing goats on Caw Ridge in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta saw a nanny charge and ram a gray wolf that had grabbed her kid, which ultimately survived the encounter (though the same wolf managed to kill a yearling goat not long after). In another instance in the same herd, a nanny drove off a wolverine, which may, like the coyote and golden eagle, be a significant threat to very young kids. 

Mount Timpanogos goats are somewhat habituated to people, and Slider told Deseret News that he'd heard of hikers feeding them on occasion, which may explain this particular billy's fearlessness. (According to KSL, a mountain goat attacked a domestic dog on Mount Timpanogos a few years ago.)

Like any other animal, a mountain goat accustomed to handouts from people can become aggressive. Hikers may also run into tense situations when goats flock to trails or campsites to slurp salt from sweaty clothes, backpacks or urine. (The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife warns hikers to relieve themselves at least 50 yards off hiking trails to avoid drawing goats in.) 

And certainly you'll find yourself on the receiving end of a goat's bad mood if a nanny feels her kid is threatened, or if a billy is riled by the rut (as the Olympic goat that killed the hiker may have been).

The basic rules for avoiding a dangerous encounter? Giving these animals plenty of room, for starters: no matter how photogenic and cuddly goats may appear, stay 50 yards or more away.

If a goat crowds you, meanwhile – as the Timpanogos billy did – you should shout at it, wave your arms and shake clothing. If the animal persists, you may need to throw rocks. (There's more about mountain-goat safety at this Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife page and in this Slate writeup.) 

Scott Root of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources told KSL that Slider appeared to do everything he could given a dicey situation. "There was nothing in this footage to hide and get behind, which typically you want to do with big game," Root said. "So, making noise was the best thing he could have done."