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Winter hiking guide: Southern Colorado

Daniel Forster Cheyenne Canyon Road
Posted at 12:05 AM, Jan 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-15 02:22:47-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — The first snow has fallen! It's a godsend for skiers and snowboarders, but it also means hiking in southern Colorado will become more restricted, and trails that are open are going to be a little icier.

Hikers in southern Colorado got to enjoy a prolonged hiking season this fall with streaks of unusually warm temperatures and a lack of snowfall.

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

But, now with winter weather finally rolling in through southern Colorado, our usual trail routes have changed, and terrain has become less safe. News 5 spoke with some local outdoor experts about how to best approach a winter hike, and of course, their favorite spots to hike in southern Colorado.

Safety First

While winter conditions mean a whole new adventure, it also brings in a whole new set of risks for hikers. News 5 spoke to two local experts on the subject Shane Leva who is the general manager at Mountain Chalet in Colorado Springs, and Jessica Bell, a 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 avid outdoorswoman who is also a triathlete and a skier.

The most important thing both of them stressed is how much longer winter hiking takes due to the snow and ice on the ground. Leva also stressed how much more energy is required to go on a hike in the winter.

"Be conservative in winter for sure. Everything is harder. Rescues could potentially take longer," said Leva.

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

"Anytime we're getting into anything with snow, we should probably talk about avalanches is what I'm going to start with. So if you don't know how to read avalanche terrain, I would highly recommend you go take a course or think things very conservatively," said Leva, "You need to know how to rescue your partners and move through that terrain."

He mentioned that important gear to bring for more difficult hikes include beacons, a shovel, and a probe to have with you in case you need to be rescued or rescue 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 spokesperson with the Summit County rescue group said the two were snowshoeing on a trail that is a backcountry dirt road in the summer.

A statement says from the rescue group says: "The two were not carrying a transceiver, probe, or shovel. Many people hike and snowshoe trails in the winter and don't think they need avalanche gear or basic assessment skills. But some trails do cross avalanche paths or below avalanche paths. We need to step up our education game in this area for winter hikers and others. When the CAIC's report comes out in the next couple of days, it may have further information about whether they had avalanche awareness and training or not."

Another piece of advice that both 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 since the sun goes down earlier, and the temperature drops quickly.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is a trusted resource to track conditions, and they have a map that they update which shows current avalanche danger levels around the state.

What to Bring

  • Footwear:
    • Microspikes: This type of footwear add-on will help you with gaining traction on
    • Snowshoes: If you're going for something in the backcountry, where snow could be a couple of feet thick, snowshoes will be your best friend on this type of terrain. Also, if you're going to be wearing snowshoes don't forget trekking poles!
  • Water:
    • Summer, winter, fall, or spring you're going to need water! However, when hiking in freezing temperatures you have to think ahead to make sure your water won't be frozen by the time you need a drink.
    • Shane from mountain Chalet told News 5 he tells people he's guiding to bring a water bottle instead of a camelback and to also bring some type of insulator.
    • However, if you're going to use a camelback he recommends using an insulated backpack. Jennifer also points out to make sure the tube of the camelback has an insulated cover since water can freeze in the tube and trap water in the backpack.
  • Dressing for success:
    • "Cotton kills in the hills": Both Leva and Bell say that when it comes to dressing for outdoor activities in the winter, do not wear cotton. They recommend using materials like merino wool, polyester, or synthetic fabrics.
    • Layers layers layers: Bell stressed that one of the biggest mistakes people can make is not layering properly. "You're still going to get your body temperature high because you're moving and but you're cold at the beginning of your hike," said Bell, "so making sure that you've got layers on so that if you do get warm, you can pull something off."
    • Bottom layers: The no cotton rule also applies too on the bottom half, and Leva and Bell recommend finding a soft-shell pant that is both wind and water-resistant.
    • Plus, don't forget gloves and a hat!
  • Extra:
    • Always carry an emergency bivvy and space blankets. The days are shorter, and trails can be covered up by snow, so if you're ever lost and in need of rescue
    • Sunglasses and sunscreen. Between thinner air in the mountains to the snow reflecting sunlight back at you, your risk of sunburn doesn't decrease in the winter and don't let those overcast days fool you either.
    • And lastly, always carry an extra snack, winter hiking takes longer and you might need some more energy on the trial.

Finally, the hike recommendations!

North Cheyenne Canon Park
North Cheyenne Canon Park - Colorado Springs

Easy:

  • North Cheyenne Cañon Park: Across from Fort Carson, this hike can be steep in parts, and mountain bikers report that it's a great start. One thing to note about North Cheyenne Canyon is that the main road is closed in the winter, but you can access it above on Gold Camp.
  • Red Rocks Open Space: By Highway 24, Red Rocks Open Space is a great place for an easy hike, and there are maps everywhere you go which is something key for the winter if you get lost while the sun is going down.
  • Section 16: On Gold Camp Road, Section 15 connects to Red Rocks Open.
  • Seven Bridges: These trails are typically easy, but long, and can be even longer in the wintertime.
  • Rampart Reservoir: While the reservoir is closed during the winter, there's a trailhead just down the road from it and it's known as a fun place to snowshoe.
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Barr Trail | February 2020

Moderate:

  • Stratton open space: While in the summer times trails can seem like an easy walk in the park, Bell says this one is less marked in the wintertime, so it can be easier to get lost.
  • Barr Trail: The nice thing about the Barr Trail is you can turn around at any time on this 13-mile trail.
the crags avalanche.jpg
Looking south from Highway 14 toward the Nokhu Crags. In the center of the photograph you can see a natural avalanche that released sometime on 12-23-2016. The avalanche propagated across both of the shoots in the center of the screen. Steep north through northeast to east-facing with previous wind loading like this are areas you should avoid right now.

Hard:

  • Horseshoe Gulch: When we asked about harder hikes Shane recommended that areas near Breckenridge have a lot of trails for more advanced hikers. Horseshoe Gulch was one of the hikes he recommended.
  • Devil's Playground trail and the Crags trail: Can be a really good hike for a more difficult hiking experience, Shane recommends though that "if you're going to go play in the bigger Hills, you need to make sure you know what you're doing for Avalanche terrain and reading the terrain properly."

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