Officials warn motorists, recreationists to prepare for the worst after Sunday snowstorm left many stranded |

Officials warn motorists, recreationists to prepare for the worst after Sunday snowstorm left many stranded

Search and Rescue has responded to three snowmobile incidents in two weeks

Current leaders and volunteers with Routt County Search and Rescue respond when people are in trouble, but rescues can take some six to 24 hours or more. So winter adventurers are urged to prepare for outings more carefully.
Courtesy photo

Blowing snow stranded up to 200 travelers, including many from Routt County, overnight Sunday in Walden, as all roads in and out of town were closed for more than 12 hours, according to Walden Mayor Jim Dustin.

With three small motels full, about 80 people, including about two dozen children and 15 dogs, stayed in an emergency shelter at North Park Community Church in Walden, according to church volunteer Ann Carlstrom, a 55-year Walden resident.

Carlstrom said a majority of the people staying in the church had been trying to drive home to Routt County after holiday travels to the northern Front Range.

“They were all very, very nice, very appreciative,” Carlstrom said. “For us it’s no big deal. That’s what we do if people need a place to stay.”

The church has limited cots, blankets and pillows, but most travelers brought in supplies from their vehicles, bought snacks at the two local mini-marts and shared food with fellow travelers in the church kitchen, Carlstrom said.

She noted the church usually needs to offer shelter at least once a winter. Dustin added that the elementary school gym in Walden housed about 20 travelers Sunday night.

As a result of Sunday’s storm, the town mayor wants to remind winter drivers to check Colorado Department of Transportation’s road conditions, warnings and closures on before heading out.

Additonally, emergency officials are asking all travelers and outdoor recreationists to take time to prepare before leaving home this winter.

Routt County Search and Rescue provides a list at detailing 10 items people should always carry with them in their cars, including supplies for navigation, insulation, illumination, first aid, fire, tools, hydration, nutrition, shelter and sun protection.

Additionally, Search and Rescue President Jay Bowman said the group responded to three rescue situations with snowmobilers in the past two weeks.

All of the responses were in whiteout conditions and extended into the night, including a snowmobiler injured near Rabbit Ears Pass and lost snowmobilers in the Buffalo Pass area.

Bowman said the most common problems stem from recreationists who underestimate the time a snowshoe or backcountry ski trip will take, neglect to prepare for the extremes of mountainous temperature swings or are caught off guard when storms come in quicker and night falls faster than they anticipate.

Another common mistake is assuming cell phones will always have coverage or not fully charging the batteries in advance. Many outdoor-lovers also do not inform their family or friends where they are going, said Bowman, who has 10 years of search and rescue experience.

Even if cell phones and GPS now help speed up some rescues, many people are still not prepared to safely wait for rescuers that can take anywhere from six to 24 hours or longer, Bowman said.

“People aren’t prepared to spend the night. They do not have enough warm layers to be prepared to spend any time waiting for us, which is not a fast process,” Bowman said. “The farther away you are from town when recreating, the more prepared you need to be.”

As a result, Routt County Search and Rescue recommends recreationists always carry the 10 essentials, even if they aren’t planning to be out for long. Additionally, they should know where they’re going and how to find and read coordinates using a phone or GPS.

The rescue group also suggests that people don’t go out alone, and they should always let someone know where they’re going and when they expect to be back.

If someone gets into trouble, they should call 911, try to conserve the phone’s battery and stay put to wait for rescue, according to the rescuers.

Colorado native Scott Hummer was one of the Routt County residents stuck in Walden overnight Sunday when he was trying to drive home after visiting family in Cheyenne, Wyoming. For him, it presented a tough situation.

“Can’t go east, west, north or south,” Hummer texted to work colleagues Sunday night. “I’ve never seen so many vehicles in this town. No rooms, to say the least, and wall-to-wall in the café.”

Hummer, 62, was prepared to spend the night in his sleeping bag in his pickup parked on a street in Walden, as he was equipped with his year-round, well-stocked, emergency backpack.

Eventually, Hummer found a friend of a friend who allowed him to stay in a home in Walden.

“If you’ve lived in Colorado long enough, you probably had an experience where you needed the additional gear or supplies, maybe not for yourself but for someone you stopped to help out on the roads,” Hummer said.

10 travel essentials per Routt County Search and Rescue

Navigation: Topographic map, compass, GPS or GPS app

Sun protection: Sunscreen, sunglasses or goggles, hat

Insulation: Extra layers, wool hat, gloves or mittens, hand warmers

Illumination: Flashlight, headlamp, extra batteries

First Aid: Bandages, antiseptic wipes, splint

Fire: Lighter or waterproof matches, fire starter, saw

Tools: Knife, zip ties, duct tape, whistle, multi-tool, cell phone, avalanche gear

Nutrition: High energy snacks such as jerky, trail mix

Hydration: Water or filter/purifier, cup to melt snow

Shelter: Sleeping bag, tent/tarp/bivy/space blanket

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