Quandary: Stay safe on the ice
Quandary, the old and wise mountain goat, has been around Summit County for ages, and has the answers to all questions about life, love and laws in the High Country. Have a question for Quandary? Email your queries about Summit and the High Country to Quandary@summitdaily.com.
How thick must the ice be on Lake Dillon to be considered safe?
Iceman, so glad you asketh before you fall. Ice conditions vary greatly depending on a lot of factors, so in any situation be vigilant and use good judgment. However, there are a few general rules that can help keep you above the ice.
First, let’s look at when you should just walk away and maybe try a shore-based activity instead. If the ice is less than 2-inches thick, it might be time to try some sledding on a nearby hill instead. Also, don’t travel on a frozen lake when it is snowing or at night; it’s just too easy to lose your way and end up in a bad situation. This old goat likes his beauty sleep and those pesky search-and-rescue helicopters can be quite annoying late at night, so please don’t make them come running. Also, if you see an ice ridge, — a line where the ice looks split or like it’s bubbling up — the area for up to 20 feet can still be compromised, so try to avoid it.
However, if it’s daytime, crystal clear and you have that shiny new auger you’ve been dying to test out, let’s make sure you get to play with your toy more than once.
If the ice is 4-inches thick you should be able to walk on it, but look for blue clear ice; it’s by far the strongest. The newer the ice, the stronger, so avoid the gray stuff. Much like goats, the older it is, the meaner it is to people. Try to avoid ice that’s covered with snow if possible, and if you can’t, do drill testing as you go. This means drilling into the ice in at least 30-foot intervals to ensure the thickness. Think of it as kill or be killed — you want to get this ice before it gets you.
If you have bigger toys with you, you’re going to need thicker ice. To snowmobile or take an ATV out, look for ice that is at least 6-inches thick; 8-12 inches should be enough for a car or small pickup and at least 12-15 inches are needed for a full-size pickup. Again, use your judgment. Wind and temperature changes can weaken ice, so just be aware that while one spot on a lake might be safe, a few feet away may not be.
Deeper lakes also freeze over more slowly than shallow lakes.
There is some important equipment you should carry with you if you venture out. Spikes or cleats on your shoes will help with navigating the ice. Trust me, as hooves are just not that beneficial. Also, carry two picks tied together. When you ignore all of my advice, and fall through, these can be used to anchor to the ice and help you climb your happy butt back out of there. If you are going fishing, try putting some vegetable oil on your auger. It will keep snow from sticking to it and lessen your chances of slicing yourself open trying to clean it off.
As Quandary has shown, numbers evade me quite often, so I consulted Colorado Parks and Wildlife to ensure I’m not mixing up any of those tricky digits and sending you where you ought not go.
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