With winters return to Northwest Colorado, people out recreating in the back country need to use caution when doing so near frozen bodies of water. Colorado Parks and Wildlife is reminding the public that while snow may be deep, ponds and streams still may not be frozen enough for winter activity. You should always assume unsafe ice conditions exist, so test holes should be drilled to measure the ice’s thickness. Four inches of ice is generally considered safe for people who are ice fishing or skating. However, for off highway vehicle to be driven on the ice, it’s recommended ice be at least eight inches thick, while pickup trucks require a minimum thickness of 12 to 15 inches. Those recreating should also look for signs of unsafe conditions, including varying colors in the ice, pooled water on top, cracks, open water or bubbles in the ice. Additional safety tips for recreating on or near a frozen body of water are available below.
If you do choose to venture onto the ice, remember the following ice safety tips:
Never go onto the ice alone. Having someone with you means your partner can call or send for help if you fall in.
Remember Reach-Throw-Go. If you are with someone who falls through the ice, use this approach. If you can’t reach the person from shore, throw them a floatation device or rope. If you still can’t help the person quickly – go for help. Never attempt to walk out onto the ice to rescue your friend because you may also fall through the ice.
Avoid alcoholic beverages. Alcohol increases your chance for hypothermia, which is the loss of body temperature. It can also lower your inhibitions, increasing the likelihood that you might take risks you might not otherwise take.
Wear a life jacket. Always wear a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD) over winter clothing. Life jackets can provide excellent flotation and protection from hypothermia.
Assemble a personal safety kit. Always wear a safety kit on your body when going out onto the ice. Safety kits should include an ice pick, rope and a whistle to call for help.
Always keep your pets on a leash. Never allow your dog to run out onto the ice and never walk your dog near a frozen lake or pond without a leash. If your dog falls through the ice, do not attempt a rescue. Go for help. If the ice couldn’t support the weight of your animal, it can’t support you.
If you do fall through the ice, remember the following:
Don’t panic. Try to remain calm to conserve as much energy as possible. Try to get your arms onto the ice and kick as hard as you can with your feet to help lift you onto the ice, and then roll to safety. If you can’t get out of the cold water by yourself, take the following appropriate actions to extend your survival time while waiting to be rescued.
Do not swim. Swimming will cause your body to lose heat much faster than if you stay as still as possible.
Conserve heat. Expect a progressive decrease in your strength and ability to move. Make any difficult maneuvers quickly, while you still can.
Keep your upper body above water. Keep your head and upper body as far out of the water as reasonably possible to conserve heat.