Intrepid ice sailors seek thrills on Dillon Reservoir |

Intrepid ice sailors seek thrills on Dillon Reservoir

ADAM BOFFEYsummit daily news

DILLON RESERVOIR – Dan Burnett has tried skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling and even riding in a helicopter, but he says that none of those compare to the sheer thrill of ice sailing. “Your head is about a foot off the ground and as you go faster, your eyeballs start rattling,” Burnett said. “It feels feel like you’re operating a jet fighter.”Ice sailing originated in Holland during the 18th century where it was invented as a means for transporting goods over frozen lakes quickly. The sport soon spread to the United States where it became a hobby for wealthy sailors. Burnett, who resides in Frisco, first became interested in ice sailing at age 13 after he got a job at a Denver sailboat store. It didn’t take him long to recognize the exhilaration that comes from the sport.”It’s an incredible speed rush,” he said. “When you accelerate, all of the contents of your stomach go into your throat. Other vehicles can accelerate fast but not while you’re lying down.”

Like most ice sailors, Burnett reclines in his vessel to reduce wind resistance.According to Burnett’s long-time friend and sailing partner, Chick Koran, an ice boat can travel 10 to 15 times faster than a soft-water sailboat. “A little dinghy might get up to four or five knots,” Koran said. “These ice boats can reach speeds of 40 knots.”Koran, who is also a pilot, likens ice sailing to flying a plane at low altitude. He still maintains that ice sailing is the more exciting activity. “It’s the ultimate speed sensation,” he said.

A short seasonIce sailing becomes increasingly difficult as the surface becomes covered with snow. As a result, Summit’s ice sailors are limited to just a few weeks during an average winter. As soon as Dillon Reservoir freezes, Burnett and Koran immediately take to the ice, often accompanied by long time ice boater Richard Cotter.”Whoever is brave enough goes out there first,” Koran said. “We usually send Dan out because he’s a rescue guy and we figure he’s a good man for the job.”This season, the Summit trio enjoyed just one week of ideal conditions before the snowfall became too great.”If you get much more than an inch of snow, there’s too much drag,” Burnett said. “The factor of unbelievable speed ends.”

During dry years, ice sailing is possible for nearly a month while other years the nautical adventurers are lucky to get out at all, Koran said.This year Burnett took advantage of the favorable conditions while they lasted. The Summit County Search and Rescue mission coordinator estimated that he traveled nearly 200 miles over the course of five days. Making countless trips back-and-forth between Frisco and Dillon, his boat periodically reached speeds of 70 mph, he said.”There really is a small window of opportunity,” he said. “It’s a stupid sport in that way.” Burnett prefers to go “all out on Lake Dillon rather than worry about the logistics of going from lake to lake,” he said. Koran, however, has yet to stow away his boat for the winter as he is considering using it on nearby Green Mountain Reservoir. Inherent danger

Inconsistent ice patterns make ice sailing a dangerous endeavor. Because ice is an ever-changing entity, Burnett said, he and his sailing partners often encounter open holes and pressure ridges while sailing on the frozen reservoir.”We once saw a 20-foot-wide hole open up within one hour,” Burnett said. “But more often we see pressure ridges. They’re immovable pieces of ice that can stop you instantly if you slam into them.”Because of the danger involved with the sport, Burnett and Koran are always sure to test the ice they plan to sail across. In addition, they never venture out without life jackets and rescue gear. Like many other high-speed sports, a helmet is also considered mandatory.”We don’t take (safety) lightly,” Burnett said. “But that’s part of the thrill – to be involved with a sport that involves nature to that degree. It’s a beautiful thing to be at the whim of nature.”Adam Boffey can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13631 or at

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