Winter Hiking Guide: Southern Colorado

COLORADO SPRINGS — The first snow has fallen! This is a boon for skiers and snowboarders, but it also means that hiking in southern Colorado will become more restricted and open trails will be a little more icy.

Hikers in southern Colorado were able to enjoy an extended hiking season this fall with streaks of unusually warm temperatures and a lack of snow.

Colorado Springs was nearly a month after the first average snowfall when the first flakes fell from the sky.

But, now that winter weather is finally arriving in southern Colorado, our usual trail routes have changed and the terrain has become less safe. News 5 spoke to local outdoor experts about the best way to tackle a winter hike and, of course, their favorite places to hike in southern Colorado.

Safety first

While winter conditions mean a whole new adventure, they also present a whole new set of risks for hikers. News 5 spoke with two local experts on the subject, Shane Leva, general manager of Mountain Chalet in Colorado Springs, and Jessica Bell, sales associate at Gearonimo Sports in Colorado Springs. Leva has 15 years of experience as a rock climbing and ice climbing guide and has climbed extensively throughout Colorado. Bell is an outdoor enthusiast who is also a triathlete and skier.

The most important thing they both pointed out was how long the winter hike was due to snow and ice on the ground. Leva also pointed out how much extra energy is needed to hike in the winter.

“Be careful in winter, of course. Everything is more difficult. Rescues could potentially take longer,” Leva said.

He also stressed the importance of knowledge of the terrain and avalanche training when going to more difficult areas, and that hikers must be prepared to handle a stressful or dangerous situation.

“Anytime we tackle something with snow we should probably talk about avalanches, that’s what I’m going to start with. So if you don’t know how to read avalanche terrain, I’ll tell you. highly recommend going to a class or thinking very conservatively,” Leva said, “You have to know how to save your partners and move through that terrain.”

He mentioned that important gear to bring for more difficult hikes includes markers, a shovel and a probe to have with you in case you need to be rescued or save your partner.

Last week, two people from Colorado Springs, along with their dog, were caught in an avalanche while snowshoeing in Summit County. All three were buried by the avalanche and were found dead by a rescue team.

A Summit County Rescue Group spokesperson said the pair were snowshoeing on a trail that is a backcountry dirt road in the summer.

A statement from the rescue group read: “The two were not carrying a transceiver, probe or shovel. “avalanche or basic assessment skills. But some trails take it through avalanche paths or under avalanche paths. We need to step up our education game in this area for winter hikers and others.” When the CAIC report comes out in the next few days, it may contain more information on whether they were aware of the avalanches and formation or not.”

Another tip Leva and Bell shared was to always check weather and avalanche conditions ahead of time. Bell also mentioned that it’s important to start hikes earlier in the winter because the sun sets earlier and the temperature drops quickly.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is a reliable resource for tracking conditions, and they have a map they update which shows current avalanche danger levels around the state.

What to bring

  • Shoe:
    • Microspikes: This type of complementary shoe will help you gain traction on
    • Snowshoes: If you’re going anything in the backcountry, where the snow can be a few feet deep, snowshoes will be your best friend in that type of terrain. Also, if you’re going to be wearing snowshoes, don’t forget the hiking poles!
  • The water:
    • Summer, winter, autumn or spring you will need water! However, when hiking in freezing temperatures, you need to plan ahead to make sure your water won’t be frozen by the time you need a drink.
    • Mountain Chalet’s Shane told News 5 that he tells people he guides to bring a bottle of water instead of a camel and to also bring some type of insulation.
    • However, if you are going to use a camelback, he recommends using an insulated backpack. Jennifer also points out to make sure the camelback’s tube has an insulated cover because water can freeze in the tube and trap water in the backpack.
  • Dressing for success:
    • “Cotton Kills in the Hills”: Leva and Bell say when it comes to dressing for outdoor activities in winter, don’t wear cotton. They recommend using materials like merino wool, polyester or synthetic fabrics.
    • Layers Layers Layers: Bell pointed out that one of the biggest mistakes people can make is not layering properly. “You’re always going to have a high body temperature because you’re moving and cold at the start of your hike,” Bell said, “so make sure you have layers so that if you do warm up, you can take something away.”
    • Bottom layers: The no-cotton rule also applies to the bottom half, and Leva and Bell recommend finding softshell pants that are both wind- and water-resistant.
    • Also, don’t forget gloves and a hat!
  • Additional:
    • Always have an emergency bivouac and space blankets. The days are shorter and the trails can be covered in snow, so if you ever get lost and need rescue
    • Sunglasses and sunscreen. Between the thinner air in the mountains and the snow reflecting sunlight back at you, your risk of sunburn doesn’t decrease in winter and don’t let those cloudy days fool you either.
    • And finally, always pack an extra snack, winter hiking takes longer and you may need more energy for the ordeal.

Finally, the hiking recommendations!

Weather KOAA

North Cheyenne Cannon Park – Colorado Springs

Easy:

  • North Cheyenne Cañon Park: Opposite Fort Carson, this hike can be steep in places, and mountain bikers report it’s a good start. One thing to note about North Cheyenne Canyon is that the main road is closed in the winter, but you can access it up on Gold Camp.
  • Red Rocks Open Space: Off Highway 24, Red Rocks Open Space is a great place for an easy hike, and there are maps everywhere you go, which is essential for winter if you get lost while the sun sets.
  • Section 16: On Gold Camp Road, Section 15 connects to Red Rocks Open.
  • Seven Bridges: These trails are generally easy, but long, and can be even longer in winter.
  • Rampart Reservoir: Although the reservoir is closed in the winter, there is a trailhead just down the road and it is known as a fun place to snowshoe.
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Stephanie Butzer/Denver7

Barr Trail | February 2020

Moderate:

  • Stratton Open Space: While in the summer the trails can seem like an easy walk through the park, Bell says this one is less marked in the winter, so it can be easier to get lost.
  • Barr Trail: The good thing about the Barr Trail is that you can turn around at any time on this 21 km trail.
the avalanche of the cliffs.jpg

Colorado Avalanche Information Center

Looking south from Highway 14 towards Nokhu Rocks. In the center of the photo you can see a natural avalanche that was triggered on 23/12/2016. The avalanche propagated through the two shoots in the center of the screen. Steep slopes from north to northeast to east with a previous wind load like this are areas you should avoid at this time.

Hard:

  • Horseshoe Gulch: When we asked about more difficult hikes, Shane recommended that areas near Breckenridge have plenty of trails for more advanced hikers. Horseshoe Gulch was one of the hikes he recommended.
  • Devil’s Playground Trail and Crags Trail: Can be a great hike for a more challenging hiking experience, however Shane recommends that “if you’re going to play in the bigger hills you need to make sure you know what you’re doing for the terrain. avalanche and correctly read the terrain.”

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