Traveling in Colorado during the winter is not without its challenges. North Park is still very much a wild place, as remote as it is beautiful. Those who have called Jackson County home pride themselves for face freezing winters, avalanches, and blizzards every year. It’s all just part of the pace of life in the mountains.
What to Do If You Are Stranded in Walden, CO
In the winter time, unexpected storms can come into North Park, plastering highways with snow and ice with gale force winds. Roads frequently become blocked in and are shut down to prevent travel down dangerous roads. If you plan on traveling through Jackson County on your winter road trip, here is a guide of what to do if you are stranded in Walden, CO.
Proceed with Caution
Storms that cut through North Park create conditions so sudden and extreme that you might not have much warning. With over sixty miles of road from one end of the county to the next, there’s a small chance you might find yourself seeking shelter in Walden, CO.
Check CDOT for information about road closures in Colorado and other winter driving conditions. When traveling, always make sure someone knows your travel plans and when to expect your arrival in case of emergency or delays.
- Road closed means Road Closed!: Never attempt to enter a section of highway that has been closed. Entering a closed road can be deadly and road crews might not have access for days.
- Climate ready vehicle: Even if the road isn’t closed, your car needs to be equipped with good condition all-weather/snow tires, chains, or 4WD capability if possible during the winter months.
- Slow down!: Most skids, accidents, and rollovers are the result of driving too fast in dangerous conditions.
- Don’t block traffic: If you need to stop, pull over in a safe area where you are visible. Be sure to pull off only in an area where you are not going to become stuck. Otherwise, keep going at a slow pace until you can find a safe, visible place to park. Preferably in Walden, CO.
- Know your limitations: Never attempt to drive a road you don’t feel safe driving. It’s much better to wait it out or find an alternative route.
Remain Calm and Stay Put
Road closures happen all the time in the mountains. Sudden snowstorms have been known to prevent safe passage as early as October and as late as May. That isn’t to say, the rest of the year is off limits.
Spring snowstorms are often wetter, heavy snowfalls that can build up quickly, shutting down transit in a matter of hours. Winter blizzard conditions are especially deadly due to the extreme drop in temperatures. Recorded lows have been as low as -50 degrees F. That isn’t even taking wind chill into consideration!
Snowplows and Getting Stuck
Snowplows typically only operate between the hours of 7am and 8pm during the winter months. If your vehicle runs off the road, it is important to keep calm and stay with your vehicle for maximum visibility. Other drivers on the road cannot see you if you are walking on the side of the road. You run the risk of being struck by another driver if you leave the safety of your vehicle.
For safety, remain in your vehicle to protect yourself from the wind and reduce the chance of hypothermia. Exposure to the extreme cold of a winter storm in the mountains can result in frost bite and even death. Use your hazard signals and call for help if you have cellular reception. Jackson County emergency services for police, fire, and ambulance all use 911 for their main emergency number.
If snowplows are operating, there’s a good chance they will spot you before anyone else. Make yourself visible and signal for help if you are stuck. Take care not to get in their way or endanger the safety of others.
What to Do In Case of Emergency
Let’s get the worst-case scenario out of the way first. Being broken down miles from anywhere is the scariest prospect.
Stay Dry to Stay Warm
The key to surviving being stuck in a blizzard is to stay dry. Most heat loss comes from wet clothing and exposure to low temperatures. Wind and blowing snow can quickly saturate your protective layer of clothes, leaving your vulnerable to hypothermia. Temperatures can drop quickly at night, down to deadly temperatures.
Use Your Car as Shelter
Staying inside your vehicle until help arrives is the best way to stay out of the wind and key to staying dry. Bundling up in multiple layers of clothing, using emergency mylar blankets, and anything you can layer around you and your passengers will help. Huddling together for warmth will help conserve heat. Don’t get in and out of your vehicle if at all possible. Doing so risks losing heat and dragging in snow, making everything cold and wet. Call 911, follow instructions, and wait for help to arrive.
One of the pros and cons to living in such a remote area is not always having to be connected to the outside world. Remote mountain passes and spotty cell coverage can be just what you are looking for when you want to get away from it all. In emergencies, however, lack of cellular signal can be terrifying.
Do not attempt to leave your vehicle and walk to an area with coverage. That could be miles away. You put yourself at risk for injury, exposure, or becoming lost. By being visible, using your hazard flashers, or flagging down passing motorists for help, your chances of getting help are greatly improved. Otherwise, stay put and shelter in place.
When traveling in Colorado much of the year, it is vital to equip your vehicle with an emergency roadside assistance kit. Here are some basics every mountain driver should have in their vehicle:
- Emergency lighting: Flashlight with fresh batteries, emergency flashing signals, or roadside flares if possible. Visibility can be impossible during the whiteout conditions of a winter snowstorm. It is important to see and be seen.
- Space blanket: Mylar blanket reflects heat to you in extreme cold. Lightweight, inexpensive, and it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
- Food: Keep energy/protein bars on hand for calories. Your body is a biological furnace and needs calories for fuel
- Water: Dehydration leads to hypothermia. Stay hydrated and wait for help to arrive.
- Coffee: Packets of instant coffee can be mixed with water to provide a caffeine boost to counteract hypothermia. Just another reason to love coffee even more.
- First aid kit: To tend minor/major wounds in case of an impact or other health conditions.
- Matches: If you do need to start a fire outside your vehicle, matches are a reliable way to do this. Unlike lighters or other fuel-powered ignition sources, matches remain stable and useable for years.
- Candles: Can be used as a small, portable heat source that doesn’t expire or require refueling.
- Blankets and/or sleeping bags: Even for just driving and remaining comfortable, blankets and sleeping bags can be a life saver if you are stranded. Wool and synthetic blankets are best at retaining heat even if they become wet.
- Emergency whistle: A whistle can help others locate you, especially if you are buried under snow.
Fire and Emergency Heating
Emergency candles or fuel stoves can help you stay warm if you are stranded inside a vehicle for long periods of time in the winter. Keep in mind the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is produced during combustion. It can create sensations of nausea, drowsiness, disorientation, and even death after prolonged exposure.
Though an emergency candle likely doesn’t produce enough of this gas to threaten your life, without proper ventilation, using a propane or butane heat source might be a risk. Intermittently running your vehicle will help you to stay warm, however, a blocked tailpipe can result in dangerous exhaust fumes reentering the vehicle.
Other than carbon monoxide poisoning, a heat source with an open flame also presents the danger of causing a fire inside your vehicle. In which case, you run the risk of harm through burns and fume inhalation as well as losing your shelter. Here are some methods to surviving a blizzard in a stranded vehicle.
Accommodations in Town
When roads start shutting down, Walden is often the only town available for overnight stays throughout the year. If you find yourself in Walden, CO and all roads leading in and out of the county are closed, you have a variety of options for a relatively comfortable stay. Walden, CO is at the center of a hub of highways running through Jackson Co. In the winter months, there's usually plenty to do in town as you wait for the roads to re-open.
Walden has a number of hotels operating in town during the winter months. Always call ahead for availability as rooms fill up quickly.
Rooms fill up quickly, so remember to be flexible with your options. A large number of vacation rental properties in Walden can also be found on AirBnB, VRBO, and other sites.
High School Gymnasium and Other Accommodations
In extreme weather situations, the high school gymnasium and a few of the local churches have been used to house stranded travelers. Often with the local community coming together to provide a hot meal, activities, and warm bedding for stranded motorists. For information about shelter for stranded motorists, contact the Jackson County Sheriff’s Dept. on their non-emergency number: (970) 723-4242.
A Word to the Traveler
North Park is often a rugged land of untamed beauty. By respecting the dangers that come with a place so isolated and remote, we can safely navigate the hazards of extreme weather conditions. Every great adventure has its challenges, and by keeping your cool and following some safety precautions, you can avoid a dire situation and simply have a great story to tell others in better times.
Walden and the North Park community understand the precautions needed to take to live here year-round. Even the most seasoned local has found themselves in trouble. Local law enforcement, emergency services, and plow crews are constantly working to ensure your safety when visiting North Park, CO.
The isolation, rugged landscape, and even extreme weather are all parts of the natural beauty of North Park. Respecting the power of nature is just one step in appreciating its grandeur and taking on the challenge of visiting a place like no other