Colorado Parks & Wildlife shares ice safety tips

STATEWIDE — Winter has finally arrived across Colorado bringing freezing temperatures and snow to the state. But despite the chill, Colorado Parks and Wildlife reminds everyone that lakes, ponds and streams still may not be ready for winter activity.

If going to a state park, check with staff about ice thickness before heading out.

Here are a few more basic safety rules to follow when enjoying winter adventures on the ice. These and many more tips are available on the CPW website at

First, always assume that unsafe ice conditions may exist. Ice thickness changes with location and is determined by water depth. Look for clear blue ice. Always check ice conditions. Drill test holes to measure thickness.

Four inches of ice is generally considered safe for people for ice fishing and ice skating. However, off-highway vehicles, or OHVs, need at least six inches of ice thickness. Cars generally need no less than eight inches to a foot of ice. Medium-size pickup trucks require 12-15 inches of ice, minimum.

Whenever there is any question about thickness or conditions, stay off the ice.

Look for signs of unsafe conditions, including ice of different colors, water on top of the ice, cracks, pressure ridges, open water and bubbles in the ice. Also, beware of ice covered with snow. Sometimes the snow serves as insulation, keeping the ice from melting. Other times, the snow has the opposite effect, insulating the surface from freezing. Also be aware that water levels can fluctuate in reservoirs which can affect ice stability.

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.

There’s lots of outdoor fun to enjoy in Colorado, but please do so carefully. No one can guarantee you that the ice is safe. The decision to go onto the ice is personal and should be made only after taking all the precautions to reduce the risk.

Caption: Look for signs of unsafe conditions, including ice of different colors, water on top of the ice, cracks, pressure ridges, open water and bubbles in the ice. Also, beware of ice covered with snow./Photo courtesy of Parks & Wildlife