High Country travelers and locals warned of ice and snow dangers
Residents and visitors alike take heed: winter is dangerous out here in the High Country. Whether it’s the ice silently creeping across sidewalks and roads, or the high snow banks blocking views at intersections, the high alpine environment can make everyday chores and trips hazardous to our health.
Summit County Public Health has some tips for people visiting or living here to make the most of the winter wonderland while avoiding potentially trip-ruining or life-altering accidents.
Lauren Gilbert, a Public Health nurse, noted that people coming up here from may have little idea of how ice and snow behaves up here, while residents may put down their guard going through their daily routines or adventuring into the wilderness.
One of the basic and most common activities in the mountains, walking, poses its own special hazards. While the elderly are the most prone to fall injuries, with one in four Americans aged 65 or older suffering a fall injury each year and falls being the leading cause of fatal injury among seniors, slips and falls on ice are common for any age range.
Sidewalks in built-up parts of town may be some of the most dangerous places for pedestrians, with snowmelt and gutter runoff spilling across concrete and freezing back up, especially on the shady sides of buildings. Workplaces, where many residents spend much of their time, also become injury hotspots during the winter. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, falls are among the most common worker’s compensation claims submitted during the winter.
To avoid falls, Gilbert recommends wearing appropriate footwear with sufficient traction. She also recommends using traction cleats, detachable grip attachments that can be worn on shoes to improve walking stability on ice.
“I know people who wear traction cleats all the time,” Gilbert said. “It’s also important to just be generally aware of your surroundings, and to be responsible with footwear.”
Driving is an especially potent hazard in Summit County during winter. It’s no wonder that car insurance rates have spiked in the county and across the state for years. Car insurance search engine The Zebra, in its annual State of Auto Insurance report for 2019, found that car insurance rates in Colorado jumped by 19.29% between 2017 and 2018, and an eye-popping 78.1% between 2011 and 2018.
Highway driving in the mountains is especially precarious, which is why Colorado passed a law keeping traction laws in place in the mountains throughout the winter season. Until May 31, all passenger vehicles on I-70 between Morrison and Dostero are required to have tires with a tread depth of at least 3/16th of an inch, or be equipped with chains or alternative traction devices. Four-wheel-drive and all-wheel drive vehicles must be equipped with snow or all-season tires.
But highways are certainly not where traffic accidents are limited. In the mountains, the snow doesn’t usually melt for months, and there’s often nowhere for plows to put it, aside from accumulated piles at the side of the road. The accumulated snow create high snowbanks, which may be especially dangerous by creating blind spots at intersections and backing out of driveways.
Drivers are advised to take extra time and care to check for oncoming traffic and pedestrians when approaching an intersecting road or path with a blind spot. If a snowbank blocks a line of vision, drivers can lean forward past their steering wheel to get that extra few inches of perspective that can make the difference between clear passage and a T-bone collision.
After a good snowfall, Gilbert also wants people to practice common sense and courtesy by cleaning off their cars. And that’s not just cleaning the windows – make the extra effort and clear off the snow on the roof. As the car warms up and starts moving, the snow layer can slough down off the roof and onto the windshield, blocking vision and giving rise to a potential catastrophe.
Residents are also asked to keep fire hydrants and gas meters free of snow and ice. Firefighters will find it much easier to do their jobs, and as exemplified by the house explosion in Breckenridge earlier this year, it is important to be mindful of ice dams on roofs.
For snowboarders and skiers, helmets are always advised. Gilbert also reminds the public to wear sunscreen to protect skin against that big ball of fire in the sky. The sun’s ultraviolet rays still pound down on us in winter, and radiation is magnified in the thinner atmosphere in the mountains. It also reflects off the snow and ice, which also calls for proper eye protection.
Residents or visitors experiencing an emergency should always dial 911 and wait for help. However, for minor incidents and injuries, Gilbert advised the public call the non-emergency dispatch number. A dispatcher will be able to point you in the right direction to get help, including nearest hospitals and urgent care facilities.
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