So far, it’s shaping up to be one of those years when the snow is “late” to arrive in the Gunnison-Crested Butte area of Colorado. While the skiers and snowboarders are not happy about this delay, the ice skaters start whispering (and Facebook posting) about ice on the lakes. The trade-off for little or no snow is smooth, fast lake skating throughout the Gunnison area. Cold temperatures are never in short supply during December so the local lakes and rivers begin to freeze rapidly, creating glassy skating conditions. As long as the snow stays away, the quality of the ice remains stellar.
What You’ll Need for Lake Skating
When you have determined the ice is thick enough for skating on local lakes, ponds and rivers, then you just need a few items to start gliding:
- Dress for the weather but remember you’re likely going to work up a sweat. Utilize layers and your Nordic ski clothing if you have it.
- Ice picks in case you fall in. These are lightweight, inexpensive and thread through your coat sleeves so you won’t lose them. You might check out something like these: https://www.nrs.com/product/2245.5/pick-of-life-ice-awls.
- Wearing a life jacket (PFD – personal flotation device) is a great idea for lake skating, just in case that ice is thinner than you thought!
- Other safety items include: small length of rope to help pull someone out (or yourself), whistle to alert others you’re in trouble, change of clothes in your car in case you take a dip in the ice cold drink.
- Skates – nothing special needed for lake skating, as you will see everything from figure and hockey skates to speed skates to nifty blades that strap onto Nordic ski boots.
- Pads – if you’re not a great skater (like me), then knee and elbow or even hip/butt pads can make things much more comfortable when you fall. Lake ice can be uneven with cracks and pressure ridges, creating some quick tripping hazards.
Where to Go
In the Gunnison Country, water abounds, which makes for many skating opportunities all within 1 hour or less from the city of Gunnison.
- Blue Mesa Reservoir – The largest lake in Colorado, this is the “Granddaddy” of all the skating venues. Hit it in the right year and you can wear yourself out with an entire day of exploring this 20 – mile long lake with 96 miles of shoreline. This year it has only been cold enough to freeze the Gunnison River for 2 miles before it dumps into Blue Mesa. The easiest access is at Wilson’s Landing in the Curecanti National Recreation Area.
- Taylor Reservoir – With the incredible backdrop of the Continental Divide, enjoy skating at 9300’. Follow County Road 742 in Almont, 23 miles to Taylor Park and you will spot this gem.
- Dome Lakes State Wildlife Area – Located in nearby Saguache County, this area is easy to access in less than 1 hour from Gunnison. At 9,000’ it is also a scenic high mountain lake with peace and solitude (other than fellow skaters).
- Small lakes – If you can access some of the smaller, high-mountain lakes near Gunnison/Almont/Crested Butte, they can be enjoyable as well but seasonal road closures and snow cover may hinder access. This year, local skaters have made their way to Spring Creek Reservoir, a small lake between Almont, Crested Butte South and Taylor Park, about 9 miles up County Road 744.
Lake Skating Safety: http://blog.theclymb.com/tips/8-safety-tips-for-playing-on-frozen-lakes/ (Many lake skaters enjoy thin ice of 3 inches or less. Remember that ice thickness on lakes can vary in different spots. If skating on thin ice, take safety gear and a buddy or make sure you are not alone out there.)
Blue Mesa Reservoir: https://www.nps.gov/cure/index.htm
Dome Lakes: http://cpw.state.co.us/swa/Dome%20Lakes%20SWA
Spring Creek Reservoir: http://cpw.state.co.us/swa/Spring%20Creek%20Reservoir%20SWA
Where to Stay
Three Rivers Resort in Almont is a central location in Gunnison County for accessing a variety of skating locations. Choose from an array of cabins, lodge rooms or even vacation homes. Many of the cabins have private or shared hot tubs, perfect for post-skate soaking! Visit https://3riversresort.com/ or call 970-641-1303.