Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Frozen waters provide unique recreation opportunities for people to go places that are inaccessible by foot most of the year. Whether ice fishing, skating, sledding or snowshoeing, it is important to take the right precautions and bring the correct equipment to keep you and your family safe.
On Nov. 22 at Crystal Lake Park in Littleton, teenager Dyllan Whittenburg became trapped under ice when he and three other teenagers fell through the barely frozen lake. Dive crews with the West Metro Fire Protection District retrieved him, but he sadly died two days later at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Nearby neighbors were able to rescue the other three teenagers using hoses, extension cords and rope.
This tragedy marks the 41st water-related fatality in Colorado this year. It is vital for Coloradoans to understand the dangers 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, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s (CPW) 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.”
CPW reminds people to stay safe on the ice this winter. While a great reason to get outdoors in the winter months, ice can be dangerous without proper preparation and an understanding of the dangers.
• Weather conditions can change quickly; it is important to check weather and ice conditions before trekking out onto the ice.
• Check with the agency that manages the body of water for current conditions before you head out.
• Always assume that unsafe ice conditions may exist.
• Ice conditions can vary across different areas of the same lake.
• Ice near a structure like a dock or log will be significantly thinner than ice in the center of a lake.
• Ice near moving water like an inlet or outlet will be thinner as well.
• Drill test holes to measure thickness in different areas as you venture out.
• 4 inches of ice is generally considered safe for people ice fishing and ice skating.
• OHVs need at least 6 inches of ice thickness. Cars and medium trucks require 8-15 inches of ice.
• Bring the right equipment to make an ice trip more enjoyable and potentially save your life.
• Dress appropriately in warm clothes and layers.
• Bring a friend or family member and walk separately as you traverse the ice.
• Wear a life jacket and whistle, and bring ice picks and rope. If you fall in, a life jacket will keep you afloat, a whistle can call for help, and ice picks and a rope can help you and rescue crews pull you out of the icy waters.
• A float coat can keep you warm and keep you above water if you fall in.
• For ice fishing, bring a hand or powered auger to drill holes and check ice depth.
• A popup tent and heater can keep you nice and warm.
• Bring a sled to easily carry your equipment.
• Ice cleats can help prevent slips and falls.
• Become educated about ice conditions and visual cues that can help keep you safe on the ice.
• The safest ice is solid, clear ice that froze very quickly. 4 inches of solid, clear ice is considered safe for walking.
• Milky-colored ice indicates more freezing and thawing has occurred and is considered less safe than clear ice.
• 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 the 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.
• 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 rescue a dog that wandered into open water.
CPW offers ice fishing and ice safety classes during the winter months. Check CPW’s website for a calendar of upcoming classes and events.
To learn more about ice safety, visit https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/IceFishingSafety.aspx