At OutThere Colorado, we cover a lot of deaths that occur around the state. This is because a lot of people die while participating in outdoor recreation in Colorado. Every death in outdoor recreation is tragic and difficult to write about, but one reason we do cover these deaths is with the hope that the coverage can serve as a sort of safety message to others. When it comes to covering these deaths, there are several commonalities that I've seen over the years.
Here's a list of 10 tips based on those commonalities, meant to help you stay safe in Colorado.
1. Always tell someone where you're headed and when you'll be back
When you leave the house for an adventure, always let someone know what your full itinerary will be. This typically expedites search and rescue response, something that can be absolutely crucial to survival when the elements are at their most extreme – especially in the winter. Being on the trail for a few hours compared to being on the trail overnight can make a big difference.
2. Always wear your helmet
Wearing the proper helmet for the proper outdoor recreation activity is crucial when it comes to protecting your noggin. Accidents can always happen, regardless of an athletes ability, and the use of a helmet can mean a difference between life and death. I've written too many articles about helmet-less skiers that have collided with trees and died as a result, leaving those to wonder what would have happened had a helmet been worn. Wear your helmet! And wear the right one.
3. Wear your life jacket
If you're in the water, near the water, or on a boat in Colorado, always wear your life jacket. Many drownings occur in Colorado every year and often, they involve someone without a life jacket on. Colorado's water can be very cold, resulting in conditions that can cause death, even with the best of swimmers. A life jacket is an essential piece of safety gear.
4. Be honest about your abilities
Another big killer in Colorado's outdoor recreation scene tends to be the ego, or people being overly confident in what they can safely do. There's nothing wrong with pushing yourself and there's nothing wrong with participating in dangerous activities, but this must be done responsibly. Give yourself time to learn the technical skills of an activity before diving in too deep.
5. Always properly prepare for an adventure
Your abilities will only get you so far if you fail to properly prepare for each specific adventure. On a new mountain? Investigate the route. Headed out to backcountry ski? Make sure you've checked the avalanche risk forecast. Make a checklist of gear you're bringing and go over that every time. It's no fun when your goggles freeze over on top of a mountain and you realize you left your backup pair at home.
6. Respect wildlife
While wildlife isn't killing too many people in Colorado, these incidents do occur (with injuries being much more common) and often times they could be prevented. Remember – Colorado is home to bears, mountain lions, moose, and rattlesnakes. These animals command respect. When spotted, avoid agitating them and increase distance from the animal. Most animals aren't trying to kill you, but they might if they feel threatened or if they're encountered on a particularly hungry day.
7. Heed the weather alerts
Colorado's weather can bring many deadly risks – avalanches, icy roads, heat stroke, large hail, flash flooding, and lightning, to name a few. Even dense fog on a roadway has proven deadly in the past. Use the National Weather Service website to know when weather alerts may be active in a given area. Remember – just because the skies are blue ahead, doesn't mean rainfall elsewhere won't cause a flash flood downstream. These official weather alerts can help you avoid tragedy. Also, always check the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website prior to any winter adventure.
8. Obey the traffic laws
Colorado's roads can be crazy and the drivers on them can be even crazier. It's crucial to follow Colorado's traffic laws so that you're ready for risks you may encounter. Be aware of steep grades, sharp turns, rough roads, wildlife, rock falls, and potentially slick pavement, among other things. Getting to the adventure is often more dangerous than the adventure itself.
9. Respect signage
Whether it's a sign warning you of rockslide terrain, one telling you to stay out of an old mining tunnel, or a sign telling you to stay off a seemingly safe stretch of land, follow the rules of posted signage in Colorado. Old mines can fill up with poisonous gas while also leaving a network of tunnels that can collapse in from the ground above. Terrain that seems safe can have an unseen rockfall or avalanche risk. A trail closures might be the result of a wild animal in the area or a flash flood risk that exists. Follow the signs and realize that the rules are in place for a reason – in Colorado, that saying isn't so cliché.
10. Always be prepared for the worst
Be prepared for cell phone connection to be non-existent. Be prepared for your headlamp to go out. Be prepared for a surprise rainstorm to roll through. Be prepared to lose a glove. Be prepared to break a leg. Telling someone where you're headed and when you'll be back is the start of preparation, but studying maps for landmarks, bringing an emergency GPS, and packing for extreme situations can also be important. It's always better to have something you don't need (to an extent, obviously) than to need something you don't have.
What's one tip you'd add to this list? Let us know in the comments below.
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