Don’t break the ice; winter recreation reminders from CPW

Ice fishing is a Colorado favorite when it comes to winter pastimes on ice, but taking...
Ice fishing is a Colorado favorite when it comes to winter pastimes on ice, but taking precautions to remain safe is very important.(WILX)
Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 3:18 PM MST
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - As the winter season settles in, snow is falling and bodies of water are freezing over. Frozen waters allow an abundance of unique recreational opportunities, causing people to go to places that are inaccessible by foot most of the year.

While participating in activities like ice fishing, skating, sledding and snowshoeing, it’s important to take the right precautions and bring the correct equipment to keep you and your family safe.

At Crystal Lake Park in Littleton, on November 22, 2022, teenager Dyllan Whittenburg became trapped under ice when he and three other teenagers fell through the ice on a barely frozen lake. Dive crews with West Metro Fire Protection District retrieved him, but he died two days later at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Nearby neighbors were able to rescue the other three teenagers with hoses, extension cords and rope.

This tragedy marks the 41st water-related fatality in Colorado this year. It is vital for Colorado’s residents and visitors to understand the dangers that cold water and ice can pose.

“When you fall into icy waters, cold water immersion shock can cause you to involuntarily gasp and inhale water” said Grant Brown, CPW’s boating safety program manager. “Your body will conserve heat by reducing blood flow to your arms and legs, making it difficult to swim and pull yourself out of a hole in the ice. Bringing the correct equipment like a life jacket, ice picks, and warm clothes, can save your life.”

Weather conditions can change quickly, so taking precaution and understanding potential dangers is very important:

  • Check with the agency that manages the body of water you plan to recreate on for current conditions.
  • Always assume that unsafe ice conditions may exist.
  • Ice conditions may vary across different areas of the same lake.
  • Ice near a structure, such as a dock or a log, will be significantly thinner than ice in the center of the lake.
  • Ice near moving water, such as an inlet or outlet, will be thinner.
  • Drill test holes to measure thickness in different areas as you venture further out onto the lake.
  • Four inches of ice is generally considered safe for people ice fishing and ice skating.
  • Off-highway vehicles need at least six inches of ice thickness. Cars and medium trucks require 8 to 15 inches of ice.

Additionally, bringing the right equipment on an ice trip can make your trip more enjoyable and could potentially save your life.

  • Dress appropriately in warm clothes and layers.
  • Bring a friend or family member and walk separately as you traverse across the ice.
  • Wear a life jacket and a whistle, and bring ice picks and rope. If you fall through the ice, a life jacket will keep you afloat, a whistle will allow you to call for help, and ice picks and rope can help you and rescue crews pull you out of the icy waters.
  • A float coat can keep you warm and above water if you fall through.
  • When ice fishing, bring a hand or powered ice auger to drill holes and check ice depth.
  • A popup tent and heater can help keep you warm.
  • A sled can make carrying equipment easier.
  • Ice cleats can help prevent slips and falls.

Being educated about ice conditions and visual cues can also help keep you safe:

  • The safest ice is solid, clear ice that froze very quickly. Four inches of solide, clear ice is considered safe for walking.
  • Milky-colored ice is considered less safe than clear ice, it indicates more freezing and thawing has occurred.
  • Watch for pressure ridges in the ice, sections where two ice sheets meet and rise up higher than the rest. These are generally less safe than other sections of the ice, especially if riding a snowmobile.
  • Pressure ridges can melt into open water during warmer parts of the day.
  • Ice is always expanding and contracting and can make popping and cracking noises that sound scary. These sounds are actually ice forming and are completely natural and safe.
  • In Front Range lakes, ice along the shoreline can thaw during the warmest parts of the day. If temperatures will get above freezing, get off the ice before noon to avoid getting stuck.
  • Keep your pets on a leash and under control at all times. People have fallen through the ice attempting to retrieve a dog that wandered into open water.