Photo of the flatirons covered in snow.

Colorado winters can be unpredictable, ranging from heavy snow and chilly temperatures to warm sunny days. Check out these tips to stay safe and prepared. 

1. Dress in layers

Temperatures and weather conditions can change rapidly. On especially cold days, wearing multiple layers, as opposed to a single heavy coat, can help you stay warm. This is because layers help insulate your body from outdoor chills, which can help you stay warmer and drier. If you plan on being physically active or exerting yourself, you can also easily shed layers to keep yourself from overheating. 

It’s also important to cover areas that are more likely to develop frostbite, including your hands, feet, ears and nose. Try to keep gloves, hats and scarves by your front door or in your coat pockets, so you won’t forget to bring them with you on cold days. We also recommend footwear that is warm, waterproof and tall enough to keep snow from getting inside your shoes. 

If you’re planning to drink this winter, appropriate clothing and precautions are especially important. This is because you might actually feel warmer when you’re drunk. Alcohol consumption causes our blood vessels to dilate, making our skin feel warm. This effect can give you a false sense of warmth and increase your risk of hypothermia if you spend too much time outside in cold weather. 

2. Wear sun protection

Colorado’s high elevation makes it the perfect place to catch a sunburn, even in the winter. This is because there is less atmosphere to protect against UV radiation and the sun’s rays can easily reflect off of snowy surfaces. Follow these tips to best protect yourself from sun damage:

  • Wear SPF 30+
    Lather any exposed areas on your body with sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher. It’s best to apply your first coat of sunscreen about 30 minutes before you head outside. You’ll also need to reapply every one to two hours while out in the sun. For the best coverage, opt for lotions over sprays. Packing a small container of sunscreen with you can be helpful, especially if you are spending long days outside skiing or hiking.
  • Wear eye protection
    The sun can affect more than just your skin. That’s why it’s important to wear sunglasses or goggles to protect your eyes from sun damage. UV-blocking sunglasses and goggles can reduce the impact of UV rays and help reduce glare during the daytime. 

3. Know before you go

Check the forecast before heading outside, and remember that Colorado weather can change in an instant. Take extra precautions if the National Weather Services issues any of the following winter weather alerts:

  • Blizzard warning: Issued for winter storms with gusts greater than or equal to 35 mph accompanied by falling and/or blowing snow. Snow conditions may cause whiteouts or low visibility. Avoid travel unless absolutely necessary.
  • Winter storm warning: Issued for significant winter weather events, including snow, sleet, ice or blowing snow conditions. Delay traffic plans until conditions improve.
  • Wind chill warning: Issued for a combination of cold air and strong winds that may create dangerously low wind chill values that can result in frostbite or hypothermia. Avoid going outdoors, and wear warm clothing.

It’s also important to check terrain conditions if you are planning to hike, ski or recreate in the backcountry. This includes Rocky Mountain National Park and other areas around Colorado. In the winter, avalanches can cause masses of snow, rock and ice to slide down the mountainside, potentially reaching speeds of up to 200 miles per hour (aka much faster than you can ski or hike out of the way). It’s also important to follow signs and trail closures, since there may be an increased avalanche risk in the area.

View a map of current avalanche conditions in Colorado

4. Plan your transportation

Winter weather can impact transportation options. Here are some tips to help you prepare for less-than-ideal road conditions, storms and more.

    Reminder: No matter how you plan to get around, be sure to have a backup plan in place. For instance, you may want to call a friend or family member to give you a lift if you’re concerned about getting to and from campus safely.

     If you’re driving

    Winter can impact traffic patterns, road conditions and the way your car operates. Follow these tips to get your car winter weather ready.

    • Clear off your car, including your mirrors, windshield, back window, headlights and tail lights
    • Check your windshield washer fluid, refill with new fluid if necessary (we recommend looking for a washer fluid that can withstand at least -20 degrees fahrenheit)
    • Keep jumper cables and rope or straps in your car at all times in case you lose battery power or get stuck on the road
    • Avoid abandoning your car on the side of the road if you get stuck (this can result in a ticket or fine)
    • Watch for black ice, slush, snow and other hazardous conditions, slow down especially around corners and pass with care
    • If you’re traveling on major highways or interstates, check COTrip to get updates on road closures and other changes

     If you’re riding the bus

    Snow storms and weather advisories may impact public transportation. This can include closures and delayed schedules. Follow these tips to navigate public transit during winter months.

     If you’re commuting on foot

    Whether you’re biking, skating or walking to or from campus, practice these safety tips.

    • Wear comfortable, weather-proof shoes (they may come in helpful if sidewalks haven’t been cleared)
    • Look both ways when crossing streets or sidewalks, ice can make it easier for cars, bikes and other vehicles to run through lights or stop signs
    • Avoid using electric scooters during inclement weather, as they have limited traction on snowy and icy surfaces
    • Always wear a helmet when biking or riding a skateboard, especially in the winter when road and sidewalk conditions are slippery

    5. Stay hydrated

    High elevation, cold weather and dry conditions can leave you feeling more dehydrated than usual, especially if you’re engaged in strenuous activities like skiing, hiking, shoveling or snowshoeing. Be sure to drink at least one liter (32 oz.) of water every two hours while doing physical activity outside. It’s also important to bring extra water if you plan to be outdoors with pets or other people. Avoiding caffeine (a diuretic) can also help you stay hydrated for longer.


    Apothecary Pharmacy

    The Apothecary Pharmacy at Wardenburg Health Center carries a variety of over-the-counter products, including sunscreen, allergy medication, lip balm, aloe vera, anti-itch cream and more.

    Adventure Resource Center

    The Adventure Resource Center is free and open to Rec Center members as a resource to help you plan your next trip into the outdoors. They provide route recommendations, backcountry meal planning tips, equipment recommendations and mapping services. You can also join pre-planned trips through Outdoor Pursuits.

    Outdoor Equipment Rentals

    Outdoor Pursuits offers outdoor gear rentals to students, staff and faculty. Rental equipment includes hiking, camping, climbing, tubing, water sports and winter equipment options.

    Figueroa Family Wellness Suite

    Did you know you can pick up free sunscreen, first aid and other wellness supplies at the Figueroa Family Wellness Suite on the third floor of Wardenburg Health Center.