The ice has formed on most of Northwest Colorado's lakes ponds and rivers, but just because there has been some cold weather recently doesn't necessarily mean the frozen surfaces are safe.
Ice fishing, ice skating and snowmobiling are popular winter sports that can be dangerous.
"Before going out onto a frozen lake, pond or river, it's essential to take safety precautions to reduce the risk of falling through the ice," advised Ron Dunlap, boating safety coordinator for Colorado State Parks. "You must keep mind that ice is never safe and that you take a risk anytime you go on it. Ice thickness is not consistent. Water currents especially around narrow spots bridges, inlets and outlets create inconsistencies."
Colorado's bodies of water can be especially inconsistent when it comes to ice, according to officials from the Colorado State Parks Department.
Kevin Tobey, park manager at Vega State Park, recalls alarming ice measurements taken on one Colorado reservoir. Within a few feet the ice thickness varied from 19 inches to as little as one inch.
"An underground spring created the difference, and the spring was not apparent to any of the anglers who were fishing on the lake," said Tobey.
According to Moffat County Undersheriff Jerry Hoberg, there are some bodies of water in the area that people should stay clear of.
"With the amount of running water on the Yampa (river) I would stay off of it," said Hoberg. "If people do go ice fishing on some of the other bodies of water, they should take something with them that they can use to pull themselves out with. They are not going to last too long in the water around here if they go in."
Hoberg warns if someone does fall through the ice people should exercise precaution in trying to rescue them.
"People attempting to rescue someone should try and disperse their weight over the ice as much as possible, or use a rope or a boat, otherwise they might end up needing to be rescued themselves," said Hoberg.
Elkhead Reservoir, east of Craig, is a popular place for area ice fishermen, but Ben Pedrett of the Colorado State Parks Department warns that it is a dangerous body of water in the winter.
"Elkhead is a unique lake," said Pedrett. "It is feed by some warm springs that make the ice inconsistent. The fact that there was snowfall immediately after it froze this year, makes an unpredictable ice surface. There are 4 to 5 inches in most areas, but people should use precaution when they are out on it because of the springs and the insulation that the snow provides."
While ice should not be totally judged by appearance, there are several obvious factors that can be checked.
Beware of ice around partially submerged objects, such as trees, logs, brush, embankments or dam structures.
Stay away from cracks, seams, pressure ridges, slushy areas and darker areas that signify thinner ice.
Ice forms at the edges of a lake during the fall and melts at the edges first in spring. Ice should be clear and at least 4 to 6 inches to support one person.
Be cautious of ice covered with snow. Sometimes snow serves as insulation. Other times, it has the opposite effect by insulating the surface from freezing.
When ice fishing, it is always a good idea to drill test holes as you progress out onto a lake to help judge the thickness and character of the ice.
When the ice looks solid and people decide to venture out on it, there are some safety tips that should be followed just in case something goes wrong.
It is a good idea for people to bring someone with them when they head out onto the ice. A buddy may be able to rescue them or go for help if they fall through.
When changing locations on the ice always walk at least 10 yards apart if one person falls through the ice the other can go for help.
Before a person leaves shore, they should inform someone of where they are going to be and their expected time of return.
Always wear a life jacket or personal water flotation device (PFD) over an ordinary snowmobile suit or layered winter clothing. Life jackets can provide excellent flotation and protection from hypothermia. Specialized coats that float or dry suits are also recommended.
A personal safety kit is a good idea. It should be no larger than a man's wallet and it should be carried on a person's body. The kit should include a lighter, waterproof matches, magnesium fire starter, pocketknife, compass and whistle.
In addition to the above safety equipment, a person should have with them ice picks and a rope. A cellular phone could help save a person's life.
Always keep pets on a leash. If a pet falls through the ice, people should not try to rescue it. Instead they should go for help.
If a person should happen to go through the ice and can't get out, there are appropriate actions that will extend survival time while waiting to be rescued.
Stay calm. Do not attempt to swim, the action will cause a body to lose heat much faster than if a person just floats. A whistle should be used to attract help. Ice picks should be used to attempt to claw a way out.
Snowmobilers should take off their helmet immediately because it can fill with water and cause the person to drown. Once the helmet is off it can be used to help a person float if they can trap air in it.
Once a person has pulled themselves up on to the ice surface, they should stay on their stomach and crawl or roll to solid ice or ground. People should not stand up until they have moved onto an area where they are sure they will not go through the ice again.