Winter Safety! Know Before You Go in the Snow!

Wintry drive through Turkey Springs – Pic taken 3/21/2023

Know before you go in the snow!

Wednesday – 20 Dec 2023 – 3:30pm

Upper San Juan Search & Rescue Safety in the Back-Country, Travel Safety and all things WINTER!

Winter and snow will return this week. “This is an excellent time for all individuals, families, businesses, schools, and media outlets to review their winter storm preparedness plans.” Upper San Juan Search & Rescue, and National Weather Service, Grand Junction has shared some great information. For some of you this will be a review, but for others, spending your first winter in a snow location, this is essential information.

“Snow in Colorado is important to the farmers, the ski areas, and for filling up reservoirs. However, winter storms often bring heavy snow, bitterly cold air, high winds, low visibilities and slick roads. This can lead to dangerous travel conditions and other life threatening situations such as avalanches and very frigid wind chill temperatures.”

Upper San Juan Search & Rescue Advice for Staying Safe in the Back-country

Hiking along the scenic trails of our surrounding forests and mountains can be relaxing, thrilling, and a glorious way to spend time in nature. This area offers stunning views, adventure, and high elevation hiking to enjoy in every season of the year.

But all that nature carries some risks to both visitors and seasoned hikers. Unpredictable weather, trail
hazards, high elevation, your fitness level, and many other factors can greatly impact your trip. No matter
how you move—on foot, on skis, or on snowmobiles—travel through snowy hills and fields can pose
risks, including storms, hypothermia, or getting lost or injured.

With a few minutes of planning and effort, though, you can greatly reduce the risk of getting lost or
injured in the back-country. Here are some tips for staying safe while hiking and hunting:

    • Check the weather forecast for the area you are planning a trip. Pay attention to incoming
      weather systems and keep in mind that mountain weather can change quickly and

    • Think about the elevation and terrain you will be hiking. Consider your personal fitness
      and ability to climb at higher elevations, which can negatively impact the health of some

    • Know your 10 essentials for back-country safety. Carry these items to protect you in case
      of injury, poor weather, or other problems: a map, compass and GPS system to help you
      navigate; a flashlight, headlamp or lantern for illumination; a first-aid kit; extra clothing
      for sudden weather changes; matches or lighters to provide a heat source or an emergency
      signal; sun protection; extra food; plenty of water; a basic repair kit with a multi tool;
      and emergency shelter in the form of a space blanket, tent, or tarp.

trailcard 2018 v4 2

    • Bring a warm down jacket and extra socks and gloves for a possible night in the back-

    • Carry emergency equipment in your car: a shovel; food and water; warm clothes and a
      blanket or sleeping bag; jumper cables; flashlights and flares; and a tow-strap.

    • Carry a repair kit for your mode of transportation: skis, snowshoes, snowmobile, etc.

    • Keep your emergency whistle and/or cell phone in an easily accessible pocket. You can’t
      use it if you can’t reach it.

    • Check area road conditions on

    • Be informed about the dangers of tree wells. Tree wells are hidden cavities of deep snow that
      form around the base of a tree in deep powder areas. They can be hard to see when blocked by the lower branches of a tree. The cavities hold a mix of branches, loose snow and air that can become traps if you fall into them. A Snow Immersion Suffocation (SIS) accident can happen when a skier or snowboarder falls into a tree well or deep snow and can’t get out. About 20% of snow deaths are caused by SIS. Find out more at and follow the following tips for avoiding accidents:


    • Ride with a buddy; keep your partner in sight and regroup every 10-12 turns; be mindful of
      snow conditions and be extra careful when the snow piles up.

    • Think about getting a Garmin In-Reach or other rescue location device. Remember, it can get
      very cold in a short time and minimizing rescue time is key to survival in winter.

    • Don’t overestimate the skill or fitness level of members of your party. The group can only go
      as fast as the slowest member.

Another danger to travelers in our Colorado back-country is from avalanches. Avalanches occur under
certain weather and terrain conditions when a layer of snow collapses and the snow mass slides quickly
down a slope. To help mitigate the danger from avalanches follow these tips:

    • Educate yourself about the factors that influence avalanches: the slope; precipitation;
      wind; temperature; and human activity and other triggers that can cause a layer to

    • Check on reported avalanches to see about avalanche activity in the area you will be
      traveling. Check the Colorado Avalanche Information Center [CAIC] website for
      avalanche predictions:

    • View a short on-line presentation regarding avalanche danger at
      Further resources for basic back-country safety can be found at the website:
      Staying safe in the back-country can seem daunting. But with a little preparation and effort you
      can greatly improve your odds of enjoying the trip without injury or incident.

Pumphouse Lake Accident

Weather Ready Nation Winter Safety

Your Pagosa Weather Team is the National Weather Service Weather Ready Nation Ambassador for Archuleta County. As your Weather Ready Nation Ambassadors the following is a review of travel safety and a review of Watches, Warnings and Advisories, High Winds, Wind Chill Temperatures & Hypothermia.

Winter Travel Safety

“Before winter weather arrives in earnest, it is highly recommended that you prepare your car or truck for winter travel. Then make sure your vehicle has an adequate supply of survival gear before venturing onto the highway.”

“The best way to prevent treacherous winter travel is to avoid it. This can be done by staying informed about the current weather and road conditions, as well as the latest weather forecasts.”

Every winter, Pagosa Weather receives requests for winter travel advice. We cannot give you advice as to whether it is safe for you to travel to Durango or over Wolf Creek Pass. We do not know what sort of driving experience you have, what sort of vehicle you have or what sort of tires you have. We can tell you how much more snow is expected over an area to help you make the decision.

“Information on road conditions in Colorado is available on the web at “” or by calling 511 from any location in Colorado.”

Travel Safety
Survival Gear may include a blanket, extra clothing, handwarmers, and energy bars.

Safety msg
Snow can really impact how long it takes you to slow down. And ice is worse!

Snow covered car

Don’t be this person! Snow will slide off your vehicle on to the road. It will slide into the car windshield of the person behind you and this has caused serious injuries. Or slide down your windshield the 1st time you stop & you’ll be jumping out in traffic to clear it. Get a brush/broom now and take the time to fully clear your car before setting out down the road. In Colorado, you can be ticketed if ice and snow on your windshield obstructs your view or flies off your windshield!

Watches, Warnings and Advisories

“When a warning is issued during the winter season, will you know what it means and how to respond?”

“Be READY”: A Hazardous Weather Outlook provides information on potentially hazardous weather out to 7 days into the future.

“Get SET”: A Winter Storm Watch is issued when hazardous winter storm conditions are possible within the next 3 to 4 days, but the timing, intensity, or occurrence may still be uncertain.

“Take ACTION”: A Winter Weather Advisory is issued when low-impact winter weather conditions are imminent or occurring.

In contrast, a Winter Storm Warning is issued for potentially life-threatening winter storm conditions, such as heavy snowfall or a combination of snowfall and blowing snow, which are likely to occur within the next 1 to 2 days.

A list of winter weather warning and advisory products, as well as the criteria for each type of warning and advisory, can be found here: “” or by visiting “ ” and clicking on the “Preparedness” link under the “WEATHER SAFETY” menu area near the bottom of the page.

Weather Waring Advisory

High Winds in Winter

“Strong winds in winter can result in blowing and drifting snow, causing reduced visibility. They can also result in dangerously cold wind chills and cause significant damage such as downed trees and power lines. If high winds are forecast for your area, you should bring lightweight objects indoors, tie them down outdoors or move them so they do not become dangerous airborne missiles. Any downed power lines should not be approached. Traveling on roads running perpendicular to strong winds can also be dangerous. If you drive a lightweight or high profile vehicle, you may want to wait until the high winds die down.”

Sand bags in the trunk or bed of lightweight vehicle can help.

Wind Chill Temperatures and Hypothermia

“Wind Chill is a potentially life-threatening and often overlooked killer. Wind Chill is a dangerous combination of wind and low temperatures that can be deadly and lead to hypothermia or frostbite. Frostbite is the freezing of skin and the body tissue just beneath it. To minimize frostbite, make sure all body parts are well covered. Hypothermia is a dangerously low body temperature and is the most common winter weather killer. If you or your clothing are wet, then hypothermia becomes even more likely. Minimize your exposure to the outdoors on very cold days and dress properly, making sure all body parts are well covered. The Wind Chill Index can help you determine when dangerous conditions develop that could lead to frostbite or hypothermia. The National Weather Service will issue wind chill advisories and warnings when a deadly combination of wind and cold air threaten.”

Wind Chill
You can lose up to 30% of your heat through the top of your head. Wear a hat to avoid hypothermia.

For more information on winter weather safety, go to: “”.

Shawn will have a detailed post out tomorrow morning with how much snow we can expect starting Friday and into the weekend for a white Christmas!

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I grew up in Montana where my love of the mountains is rooted. I was in the Air Force, forecasting aviation weather, for 24 years. I had eight assignments and my favorites were Colorado, Alaska, Korea, and Germany. I deployed a number of times including to Iraq and Afghanistan. After RV traveling for nine years, we found paradise in Pagosa. Here we enjoy playing outside in the spectacular San Juan mountains!
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