Photo Credit: Christian Murdock; The Gazette.

Laura Kottlowski skates on a 10,900-foot alpine lake. Photo Credit: Christian Murdock; The Gazette.

Come winter, Colorado has many lakes and rivers that start to freeze over, presenting a beautiful, but potentially deadly situation.

Here's what you need to know about ice safety in Colorado:

1. Know what ice depth can hold your weight

While ice can pose a number of risks, one of the most dangerous scenarios occurs when a person falls through thin ice into a body of water. Clear and solid ice must be at least two inches thick before if can safely support most humans. It needs to be four inches thick for ice fishing, eight inches thick to support a 2-ton passenger vehicle, and 10 inches thick to support a 3.5-ton truck.

2. Not all ice is the same

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife website lists six different types of ice that Coloradans should be able to recognize. There's frazil ice (forming ice, discs that slowly grow together), clear ice (new ice after a long freeze, generally the strongest) snow ice (milky-looking, weak, formed by refrozen snow, low density and porous), layered ice (striped appearance, formed by frozen and refrozen snow), frazil slush (soft, often forms where currents are present), and pack ice (ice formation driven by wind or water currents, can have weak holes present).

3. Never go alone

As with many outdoor recreation activities, it's vastly safer to participate in ice-bound sports with someone watching. If someone is there, they're able to potentially assist should something go wrong. It's also always important to let a non-present person know where you're headed and when you'll be back.

4. Know what to do if you fall through

Stay calm. Attract attention to the situation, using a safety whistle if possible. Try to conserve heat by moving in a slow and controlled manner. Try to gain traction on the edge of the ice by using your elbows and forearms while kicking your feet to push your body up and forward. Once on the ice, lay on your stomach to distribute weight more evenly and prevent additional breakage. Do not stand until you've reached the ground or more solid ice.

5. Be prepared to utilize safety tools

If you're planning to be on ice, make sure safety gear is present and being used when needed. A few items you might need include a safety whistle, some sort of ice pick or claw-like traction tool (used to assist in pulling yourself out of the water should you fall through), a personal flotation device, and some sort of rope. Other items include an ice spud (checks for ice consistency ahead of you), ice cleats (prevents slippage), warm clothes and a blanket, and a communication device.

6. Watch out for snow-covered ice

If doesn't take much snow to hide thin ice. This is one reason why it's always best to stay on trails when exploring Colorado's natural space. Be aware of what signs might mean there's ice beneath snow – depressed river beds, the sound of rushing water, and large, flat areas amid otherwise textured terrain.

7. Don't run to the rescue

If someone you're with falls through the ice, don't rush their way. If the ice was thin enough for them to fall through, there's a good chance it won't support you either. Instead, assist from a safe distance. If you have a rope or flotation device, get it their way. Help talk them through the steps of self-recovery, try to keep them calm, and get help if possible. Call emergency assistance via 911 as soon as possible. Rescuing from the ice is extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. Find more info about how to rescue someone that falls through the ice here.

8. Ice is never completely safe

Because some factors aren't visible to the observable eye, it's important to know that any time you're on ice, there's a risk. Proceed with caution and take precautions every time.

9. Know what to watch out for while on ice

Ice consistency is not something that's consistent across a body of water. Some signs that can reveal weak ice include ice around partially submerged objects, cracks, slush, darker areas, thin edge ice, and snow-covered ice. Read more here.

Director of Content and Operations

Spencer McKee manages the OutThere Colorado digital publication as the Director of Content and Operations. In his spare time, Spencer loves to rock climb, trail run, and mountain bike. Follow along with his adventures on Instagram at @spence.outside

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