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33 Things Every Coloradan Should Know How To Do

The tips, tricks, and insider knowledge—from bear-proofing a campsite to wearing a cowboy hat to baking way above sea level—that every Coloradan needs to fit in, stay safe, and relish all that the Centennial State has to offer.


» Your hat should almost graze the top of your ears when it’s parallel to the ground. Another way to think about it: The hat should sit about one or two finger-widths above your brows.

» Cowboy hats are not jeans: They don’t stretch through normal wear. So don’t buy a hat that’s tight. If it leaves a mark on your skin after just a few minutes, it’s too snug.

» Remember the purpose of a cowboy hat: to keep the sun, rain, and flying, uh, grit out of your eyes. Such a task is difficult to accomplish when you tilt the thing way up. Besides, it looks silly. Instead, keep the hat roughly level to the ground or tilted just slightly back.

» And always remember the most important rule: Take your hat off at the table.



If you end up with a blister on the trail, tending to the problem quickly can make the difference between turning back and summiting, says Jeff Flax, a wilderness first-aid instructor with the Colorado Mountain Club. Flax carries moleskin—a padded, sticky material you can buy at outdoor-gear stores or even Walgreens—in his pack. Cut a hole in the moleskin so it creates a pad around the blister; it shouldn’t cover the blister. Avoid using any material that might rip the blister when removed, such as duct tape. Once home, Flax advises washing the blister with antibacterial soap. Don’t apply pressure. If the blister pops, treat it like a wound.



Colorado is one of two states where recreational weed is legal. Which means you should know how to enjoy pot correctly.


STEP 1 A marijuana bud is dense, like a thistle. Pinch off a bit and grind it between your fingers. You want pieces that are small enough to pack but not so small that they’ll get sucked through the pipe.

STEP 2 Press the ground bud into the bowl of your pipe. Fill the bowl and tamp the bud firmly with your fingers, but not too tight. (Think of how a barista packs an espresso holder.)

STEP 3 Light up and smoke away, but make sure you draw it in low and slow. It’s not an asthma inhaler.



dressBusiness Attire: Puffy jacket with a plaid button-down and khakis.

Casual Wear: Puffy jacket with clean jeans and a T-shirt.

Mountain Dressy: Puffy jacket with snowboard pants and a beanie.

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skisJudging by the number of people we see struggling to manage their skis at Colorado resorts, you’d think slinging a pair over your shoulder was rocket science. It’s not. Place the bottoms of your skis toward each other, with the tips pointing to the sky, and interlock the skis using the binding of each brake (those little black plastic and metal things that stick down). Then, making sure the skis stay interlocked, lift them parallel to the ground and place the toe piece of the bindings just behind your shoulder. (The tails of your skis should point into the air; the tips will be in front of you.) Wrap your arm around the front of the skis to stabilize them.



skis2The right ski length can vary wildly depending on your height, weight, and ability. “If there’s one mistake people generally make, it’s that they are aspirational with their ski buy,” says Mike Blakslee, general manager of the Beaver Creek Children’s Ski & Snowboard School. “Shorter skis allow the skier to start getting the right movement patterns and be successful faster.” Here, a few sizing guidelines for buying your next pair of sticks.

First-Time Skier: Skis should come to the middle of the chest.

Beginner: Aim for between the top of the sternum and the chin.

Intermediate: Ski length should be between the chin and nose.

Advanced: The planks should land between the nose and five to 10 centimeters above the head. (Varies depending on the type of terrain an advanced skier plans to tackle.)



Mike Blakslee from the Beaver Creek ski school offers two simple tips you can use to help out-of-practice lowlanders or new-to-skiing friends.

Finding The Stance

slopesAs with most athletic endeavors, proper stance is important. Skiing isn’t that different from, say, football. Think of how Knowshon Moreno positions himself before Peyton Manning says “Omaha”: He’s ready to move. Help skiing rookies by making sure their knees are bent and they’re leaning slightly forward—enough so that their shins remain in contact with the fronts of their boots and they’re balanced over their feet—or what Blakslee calls “relaxed, yet athletic.” “Are they too far back; too far forward; stiff as a board?” Blakslee says. “The biggest thing is that they feel comfortable. You want them to be able to make offensive moves rather than defensive moves.”

Choosing Terrain

Though newbies may be tempted to rush off the bunny slope and onto a blue square, don’t let them. “So much of skiing comes back to the terrain,” Blakslee says. The easiest way to tell whether your friend is in over his head on a trail (aside from listening to his shrieks) is to watch his turn shape. Novice skiers on difficult terrain tend to rush their turns, which can result in tracks that look more like a “Z” than the preferable “S.” “I look at the skis and see what they are doing,” says Blakslee, “and work my way up the body to see what’s causing them to act the way they are.” If they’re Z-ing down the slope, take them back to easier terrain.



If you’re heading out for a three-day trek through the mountains, you’re already sacrificing a lot in the comfort department. Don’t make it worse: The weight of a loaded camping pack can be 50 pounds, and knowing the best way to distribute that weight is imperative for balance and easing the strain on your body.

backpack» Frequently used items like maps, snacks, and a first-aid kit should be placed on the top or side of the pack for easy access.

» Lighter gear, such as extra layers or your tent, should go on (or toward) the outside of your pack, away from your back.

» Dense, heavy items (food, extra water, and cook stoves) should go in the middle part of the bag and as close to your back as possible. This helps with weight distribution and balance.

» Your sleeping bag and pad should fill the bottom compartment of your pack. You’re not going to need them until you’re done for the day, and this setup will keep your sleeping items separate from fragrant items such as food.



A gnarly I-70 traffic jam can ruin a good ski day, and trying to time a trip to and from the mountains is a game all Front Rangers have played. To help, here’s a cheat sheet: a by-the-hour look at traffic on a weekday and a weekend (Sunday) in March at the Eisenhower Tunnel.


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White-water rafting is a quintessential Colorado adventure: exhilarating, but inherently risky. Curtis Haley, a guide at Buffalo Joe’s Whitewater Rafting in Buena Vista with 18 years of experience on the Arkansas River, gives his advice for what to do if you go overboard on your next rafting trip.

rapids» Get into the whitewater swim position.

Position yourself with your chest facing up so your head is above water; point your feet downstream; and keep your feet elevated so they don’t get caught in anything below the surface.

» Watch where you’re going.

Once you’re in the white-water swim position, keep your eyes downstream. If you’re barreling toward a rock, use your feet to push off it. Anything made of wood should be considered dangerous. “Strainers”—guide-speak for tree branches or logs that let water through but catch everything else—can ensnare a swimmer. Your best bet is to attempt to swim around them. If that’s not possible, flip around onto your stomach so you’re headfirst toward the tree, and make impact with your hands so your head stays above the surface. If you hit wood feet-first, they could get stuck and the current could force the rest of your body underwater.

» Don’t stand up. Period.

Trying to stand up is how people’s feet get trapped, which can then pull their bodies below the surface—an incredibly dangerous scenario. There’s no quick rescue for these entrapments.

» Make your way to the raft or to shore.

The goal is to get out of the water as quickly as possible. The raft is your first choice. Swimming is typically quicker than waiting for the guide to get to you: Stay on your back and backstroke, or turn over and swim freestyle, staying as flat against the surface as possible, with your feet up.

» Get into the raft.

Once you reach the boat, face the raft and grab the perimeter rope or a handle. Someone will assist you. Use any energy you have left to explode out of the water, straighten your arms, and kick to pull yourself up. The person on the raft will grab the shoulder straps of your life vest to help pull you the rest of the way.



recipe“There are no quick fixes for baking above sea level,” says Grateful Bread founder Jeff Cleary, who bakes bread for dozens of high-end local restaurants. On top of elevation, Cleary believes it’s Colorado’s arid climate that’s most responsible for the failed loaf. Our state’s lack of humidity means flour dries out faster. Combine that with varying elevations and climates across the state, and it’s a game of trial and error. That said, perfect bread is attainable if you’re willing to put in the time to experiment and track your results. Here, Cleary’s (greatly simplified) tips for altering your favorite recipes.

1. Incrementally reduce flour. Decrease your flour content (which effectively increases your hydration) until you have pliable dough that isn’t dry to the touch.

2. Reduce proofing time. The rule of thumb is when the dough doubles in size, it’s ready to bake, but at altitude, letting it double will cause it to be over-proofed. Instead, take it to a 60 to 70 percent increase in size rather than a full 100 percent increase.

3. Incrementally reduce yeast. If the dough rises too quickly (leaving less time to develop flavor), experiment by incrementally reducing the amount of yeast in the formula. This should yield a firmer dough.



STEP 1 Curse audibly, then deflate the tube completely. Next, use a tire lever to pry one side of the tire away from the wheel rim.

STEP 2 Remove the tube from inside the tire.

flatSTEP 3 Check the inside of the tire for pieces of glass, thorns, thistles, or anything else that may have caused the flat and could still be stuck in the tire.

STEP 4 Partially inflate a new tube (make sure it’s the right size for your wheel) and place it back inside the tire.

STEP 5 Make sure the tube isn’t twisted or pinched. Fit one side of the tire back onto the rim with the tube still inside the tire, and then, using a tire lever or your thumbs, begin to work the opposite side of the tire onto the inside of the rim. Remove the air from the tube to fit the final inch of tire on the rim. Grasp the top of the tire and rock your hands back and forth until the tube fits.

STEP 6 Inflate the tube.



fireMicki Trost of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control suggests two ways to prepare for the next wildfire season. First, register for your county’s emergency alert system. Then, follow the Firewise ( guidelines to limit flammable material near your home.

[ 1 ] Store stacks of firewood and propane tanks at least 30 feet away from your home and, if possible, uphill.

[ 2 ] Water trees, plants, and mulch often; mow the lawn frequently enough so that grasses and weeds are no taller than six inches.

[ 3 ] Remove dead vegetation from your gutters, under your deck, or anywhere else within 10 feet of your house.
[ 4 ] Use low-growing plants near your home; prune branches below 10 feet, particularly if they hang over your house.

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[Right Turn]


[Left Turn]


[Slow or Stop]




campColorado’s black bears are interested in the peanut butter sandwiches stashed in your backpack—but they’re also keen on less obvious products such as shampoo and toothpaste. “Bears have a strong sense of smell and will follow smells to their rewards,” says Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Jennifer Churchill. That means you could have a curious bruin joining your camping party if you don’t bear-proof scented items. Depending on the campsite you’ve chosen, you can pack all of your goods in a designated bear box; or, using a rope, suspend them at least 10 feet above the ground, four feet from the tree trunk, and 100 yards from your tent. Wilderness areas frequented by bears are normally marked with signs, but Churchill warns: “Bear country in Colorado is anywhere west of I-25.”



Abundant wildlife is one of the many upsides to living here, but if you head out to scope animals in their habitats, do so at a safe distance. If you find yourself face-to-face with a wild animal, here’s how to respond.




subaruA) Subaru Outback equipped with a rooftop ski rack

jeepB) Jeep Wrangler with a removable hardtop and lift package

C) See A or B

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The five steps to tying a fly fisherman’s “improved clinch knot” (aka, the knot you’ll need to tie a fly on your line).

flies[ step 1 ] Thread the line—or in fly-fishing parlance, tippet—through the eye of the hook. Double back and make five or six turns around the standing line. Quick tip: It’s usually easier to spin the fly to produce the coils.

[ step 2 ] Holding the coils in place, thread the loose end through the loop of the first coil (above the hook’s eye), then back through the big loop that you just created.

[ step 3 ] Hold the loose end and standing line while pushing the coils toward the hook. Make sure the coils stay in a spiral and don’t overlap one another. Slide against the eye. Quick tip: Sometimes it helps if you grab the loose end with your teeth, hold the standing line with one hand and the fly with the other hand, and then pull tight.

[ step 4 ] Cut the loose end as close to the knot as possible without compromising it.

[ step 5 ] Tug on the fly and line to make sure the knot will hold that monster rainbow trout you’re (hopefully!) about to land.



If we Coloradans are going to fancy ourselves outdoorsmen and -women, we should be able to decipher the outdoorsiest of maps—the topographic kind. Josh Dalton of LoHi’s Wilderness Exchange Unlimited explains the four keys to making any topography map legible.

topoFamiliarize Yourself With The Map
Check your map’s legend, as symbols and illustrations for things like roads, fee stations, and hiking trails may vary from map to map. Pay attention to indicators for private property and roads, as some may not be open to the public.

Understand Contour Lines (those squiggly continuous ones that never cross)
These lines represent changes in elevation. The elevation is the same wherever each individual line is on the map, and the space between each line indicates a 40-foot elevation change. The closer together the lines are, the steeper the terrain is. Watch for areas with dense sections of contour lines, which could indicate a cliff.

Recognize Trails
Trails are generally indicated by dotted lines, and along each, there are small numbers that represent that section’s length, typically in miles.

Decipher Terrain
A green-hued area is heavily wooded; brown shading means the terrain is above treeline (11,000 feet); and white usually means open area with no trees or a valley. Contour lines that form a “V” or “U” often represent a stream or valley, with the tip of the V or belly of the U pointing toward lower elevation.



“Colorado fly-fishing is better than ever because of habitat conservation efforts, water-quality improvements, and catch-and-release practices. Those of us at Front Range Anglers in Boulder encourage catch and release, but we also understand that harvesting trout for a shore lunch is part of the Colorado lifestyle. ?the ideal size for a harvest-worthy trout ranges from about nine to 14 inches. To clean your trout, place the fish in your hand tailfirst and start by splaying the fish belly open with a sharp knife, from the anus past the pectoral fins to where the gills meet the throat. With the edge of a knife, or your fingers, cut and/or tear out the entrails and the gills and dispose of them in a trash bin—not back into the water system, which can cause disease. ?rinse the fish with water. Then, using your thumb or finger, clear the membrane out of the blood line along the inner spine. The head can either be removed or can remain attached during cooking. Trout bones are delicate and much easier to remove after the fish is cooked, which is why trout are generally not filleted. Instead, put the fish in a pan for frying over a flame or bake it in foil over hot coals. When the flesh flakes easily, take it off the heat. Butterfly the cooked fish, taking care to remove the bones before eating. Bon appétit!” —Steve McLaughlin, Front Range Anglers; 2344 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-494-1357,

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recipeThe meat moguls at the Fort started making jerky in the 1960s, when a buffalo version served as a stirrer in the Salty Dog and Saddle Leather cocktail. Below, proprietress Holly Arnold Kinney’s modern-day recipe for the perfect Colorado snack.

PREPARE: Select an inexpensive cut of beef or buffalo, such as a 4- to 5-pound brisket, and trim the fat. Slice into strips (1?8- to w¼-inch thick, 4 to 5 inches long), cutting against the grain of the meat. (This makes it easier to chew when dried.) Quick tip: Partially freezing the meat makes it easier to slice.

MARINATE: Place strips into a glass dish and cover with a simple marinade: 1 part apple vinegar, 1 part water (or dry red wine or a darker beer), and salt and cracked black pepper to taste. Or experiment using your favorite teriyaki or barbecue sauces (dilute each cup of sauce with a cup of water); a dry rub (1 cup water to ¼ cup dry rub); or red or green chile. Cover with plastic wrap and let soak for at least 2 hours in the fridge.

DRY: Line the bottom of your oven with aluminum foil. Remove the wire racks and rub with a paper towel dabbed with cooking oil. Over a sink, arrange the marinated strips directly on the racks, perpendicular to the grate. Set your oven to the lowest temperature possible; 140° is ideal to dehydrate the meat without cooking it. Prop your oven door open to vent, and allow the meat to dehydrate for 4 to 5 hours.

EAT: Allow to cool, store in an airtight container in the fridge, and enjoy within four weeks.



natureWhen you’re out enjoying Colorado’s grandeur, chances are you’ll attempt to capture the beauty in a photo. More than likely, however, you’ll be disappointed in your camerawork when you get home. So: How can you do Colorado justice in a single frame? To find out, we asked expert nature photographer John Fielder (whose latest book, Denver Mountain Parks: 100 Years of the Magnificent Dream, was published last August) to give us three tips for getting better shots.

Wake Up

“Nature photographers make their livings on clear days one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset. Shadows are broad and add depth to the scene, and the color of light is warm yellow, which saturates all colors in the landscape. Nature photographers always get up before sunrise!”

Notice Lines

“Think asymmetrically when you design a photograph. Dominant features in the landscape create dividing lines on both the horizontal and vertical axes. The most obvious dividing line is the horizon, but where you place a tree, rock, or person can create an ‘implied’ dividing line. Avoid having dividing lines in the middle of the photograph, and use the rule of thirds—imagine lines, two vertical and two horizontal, that divide your picture into thirds; place subjects where the lines intersect—as a simple way to create asymmetrical balance.”

Learn Photoshop

“Digital photography is better than film for several reasons. The most obvious has to do with contrast. The contrast range of digital sensors allows one to capture twice as much detail simultaneously in highlights and shadows than film. The scene on your LCD, and when you download it onto your computer, may appear no more ‘contrasty’ than film. However, there is a massive amount of information in the digital file that you have to ‘go and get.’ Learning post-processing programs such as Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture can give you the tools to make the scene appear more the way it looked to your eyes—in this case, to ‘open up’ shadows and darken highlights in order to reveal hidden details and colors. This makes your photograph more real and often more appealing.”



chiliIn the fall, you can stop at the stands along Federal Boulevard for roasted chiles—or you can do it yourself. After purchasing fresh chiles at the farmers’ market, wash and dry them. You can roast individual chiles over a flame, or you can broil a couple dozen at a time on a sheet pan lined with foil. Either way, allow the chiles to blacken; this will only take a few minutes. Turn them to get an even char. While the chiles are still hot, place them in a paper bag to steam and loosen the skins. Once cool enough to touch, remove the blackened skin. Slice each chile lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Use immediately or freeze.



The West is no different than any other part of the country when it comes to having a regional dialect. Colorado has some very specific language quirks that, if you want to speak like a Coloradan, you should adopt.

Buena Vista
Bway-nuh Vee-stuh is technically correct, as the phrase is Spanish in origin, but locals tend to say Byoo-na Vis-tuh.

Cache la Poudre River
This northern Colorado river gets its name from a time when French trappers hid their gunpowder near the water’s edge. In French, it’s Kaash lah Poo-dreh, but in Coloradan, it’s Kash luh Poo-der.

If you really want to sound like a native, the “a” in Colorado should receive emphasis and be pronounced the same way you’d say the ’80s word “rad”—as in, “That’s so rad.” Hence, Call-uh-rad-o.

Estes Park
Locals say Ess-tiss instead of Ess-tees for the town, mountain, and lake.

Coloradans say Lie-mun because the word comes from the last name of a railroad camp foreman—not the Spanish word for “lemon,” which is pronounced Lee-moan.

Unlike the town of the same name in Kentucky, which is often pronounced Loo-a-vull by locals, Louisville, Colorado, is pronounced Lew-iss-vill.

This Ute word is often pronounced Ooo-ray or You-ray, but residents of the tiny town generally pronounce it Yer-ay.

This Spanish word meaning “exit” should be pronounced Sah-lee-dah, but Coloradans say Suh-lie-duh.

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mountainpassFew things can be as frustrating for high-country travelers as a fellow driver who rides his brakes down a steep pass. Brake-burners take note: There’s a better way, and it’s called downshifting. Using the engine to drop speed—and to greatly reduce the chance of locking up tires—is the best option for slowing down under any condition on a mountain road, says Kyle Taylor, a professional driving instructor at Aspen High School. If you’re a frequent mountain driver, Taylor says, “downshifting will help extend the life of your brakes, and you won’t be adding unnecessary wear to your vehicle.” Because most newer vehicle models have options that mimic manual shifting, Taylor recommends getting to know your vehicle on flat land in optimal weather before venturing onto steeper terrain. And, as with any driving situation, personal feel should always come into play. “If you are not comfortable at your speed,” Taylor says, “then you are no longer a safe driver.”



beerWelcome to Colorado: The Napa Valley of beer. Our state has earned that moniker not only because of our top-notch breweries but also because of our rich culture of homebrewing. The Centennial State boasts 6,507 members of the American Homebrewers Association—the most of any state. Here, Doug Odell, co-founder of the Odell Brewing Company, offers quick tips for the homebrewer.

“Brewing is cleaning. A good cleaning and sanitation regimen is the single most important factor in brewing great beer.”

“Always use a pure liquid yeast culture.”

“Control your times and temperatures the best you can.”

“Always shoot for flavor and aroma balance within any given style. Balance is the key to drinkability.”



scanColorado’s geography soars up to 14,433 feet and draws plenty of new residents and tourists. But those heights can pack a wallop if you don’t know how to deal with low-oxygen environments. The best way to avoid acute mountain sickness (AMS)—which is defined as a headache plus at least one other symptom, such as nausea, fatigue, dizziness, chills, trouble sleeping, or loss of appetite—is to ascend gradually. If you have family in town from New Orleans, have them spend the night in Denver before taking them to elevation. Hours spent at 5,280 feet give the body time to acclimate. But a slow ascent doesn’t always mean escaping AMS. In that case, take stock of the symptoms: Severe forms of AMS can cause confusion and difficulty breathing. If these issues arise, descend immediately and seek medical attention. If symptoms are mild, the best way to cope with AMS is generous use of ibuprofen or acetaminophen and time (symptoms usually dissipate within 48 hours). Beyond slow ascension, there are very few ways to prevent AMS; however, staying hydrated and avoiding hard-core activities for the first day or two can help. If you know you are susceptible to AMS, a prescription for Diamox is a good idea.



Dr. Peter Hackett, one of the world’s preeminent high altitude–related illness researchers, explains the science behind the myth.

“Altitude does not enhance the effects of alcohol. However, alcohol can enhance the effects of altitude. For those newly arrived to high altitude, alcohol will slightly depress breathing, mostly during sleep, which means a person gets less oxygen in an already low-oxygen environment. The result can be a higher chance of AMS. Some think they feel bad because of the drinking they did the night before, but it’s more likely the altitude. But, a hangover is a hangover, no matter the altitude—and you can have both a hangover and AMS. It’s an ugly combination. Your visiting friends and relatives should go easy on the booze. Bottom line: The blood level of alcohol at altitude is no different than at sea level.”



recipeIf you’re an avid hiker, you’ve got permission to get caught with your hand in the cookie jar—at least according to nutritionist and Skratch Labs co-founder Allen Lim. “A chocolate-chip cookie is often thought of as junk food,” says Lim, whose Boulder company designs healthy snacks for athletes. “But when we cook with simple, whole food ingredients from scratch, we almost always create something more nutritious and healthier for us than prepackaged food.” Lim offers his recipe* for a tasty source of energy.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies


1 cup brown rice flour

2 tablespoons potato flour

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon coarse salt

½ cup almond milk

1 tablespoon coconut oil
or butter

1 egg or ¼ cup
almond butter

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup semisweet
chocolate chips

2 tablespoons raw sugar

1 tablespoon coarse salt


Heat oven to 350°. Lightly coat a baking sheet with nonstick spray or line with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Heat milk for 90 seconds (or until very hot) in the microwave, Add the coconut oil or butter to hot milk to melt it. Whisk in the egg or almond butter and the vanilla extract. Pour wet mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients. Fold in chocolate chips. Stir until combined. Set dough aside to cool and combine raw sugar and course salt in a bowl. Shape dough into 12 golf-ball-size balls, lightly flatten, and top with sugar and salt mixture. Bake for 15 minutes. Let cool. Store in fridge or an airtight container for up to three days.

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cloudsIn Colorado, we’re used to looking to the sky to admire the mountains, but the weather patterns swirling around those very same peaks can help us foretell the weather. We asked Dougald MacDonald, seasoned adventurer and Climbing Magazine’s editor at large, to offer tips on predicting the weather by watching the clouds. Aside from spotting the obvious thunderheads, there are two kinds of clouds that should signal danger to outdoor enthusiasts: “There’s a distinctive cloud called a lenticular that forms on top of the mountains like a little cap,” MacDonald says. Those disklike clouds are indicators of inclement weather. “It’s probably already bad up [on the mountain], and it’s going to spread,” he explains. Similarly foreboding is what MacDonald calls “wave clouds.” If you look west and see a gray mass obscuring the mountains, heed the warning: “Climbers call it the ‘Wall of Hate,’?” MacDonald says, “because it means extremely high winds.”



lightningIf you’re going to be hiking through the Rockies, particularly above treeline (around 11,000 feet), lightning storms pose a threat. Learn how to read the weather by looking at the clouds so you don’t find yourself caught in one. If you do get stuck in a lightning storm, though, you should do what seems counterintuitive: Sit out in the open (not under a tree or in a cave or crevice). “Sit on something—like a coiled rope—so you’re insulated from the ground,” says Climbing Magazine’s Dougald MacDonald. And get rid of anything metal. One way to minimize exposure to lightning is to plan your outings: Thunderstorms before noon are especially rare in Colorado, hence the general mountaineering rule to be off the summit of a hike above treeline no later than noon.



Your backcountry trip goes awry, and you’re stranded in the snow with night closing in. It’s a nightmare scenario. We asked John Lindner, director of the Colorado Mountain Club’s Wilderness Survival School, how to build a house for the night.

snow[step 1] If you don’t have an existing shelter, a snow trench is the easiest and quickest lodging option. If the snow is at least a couple of feet deep you can dig a trench, which is a hollowed-out section of snow big enough for you to wiggle into, cover with whatever material you have, and get out of the weather.

[step 2] Determine where the first morning rays will shine. Build your trench there.

[step 3] The trench needs to be wide enough to fit your shoulders without touching the sides; long enough for you to stretch out your body; and deep enough to accommodate about 12 to 14 inches of insulation on the bottom and to allow you to turn over onto your side. If you don’t have a shovel, dig with a snowshoe or a piece of wood.

[step 4] Use whatever dry materials you can find to insulate the bottom of your trench: sleeping pad, bag, dry branches. The insulation will compress with your body weight, so you’ll need more than you think to keep from touching the ground.

[step 5] Work at a good clip, but not so hard that you sweat. Sweat = cold.

[step 6] Once you’ve crawled in your trench, cover it with whatever materials you have.

[step 7] Cover your mouth with fabric of some sort. Warming the frigid Colorado air before you breathe will help reduce moisture and heat loss when you exhale.

[step 8] Smile. Lindner says 80 percent of surviving comes from being positive. The other 20 percent comes down to having the proper gear, knowing how to use it, and, well, a bit of luck never hurts.



The five W’s and one H of decomposing your organic trash and saving the planet (or at least your garden), according to Denver Urban Gardens.

WHO can do it:
Anyone who has three square feet of outdoor space.

WHAT goes in it:
Collect carbon, such as paper towels, vacuum cleaner sweepings, dry leaves, and small amounts of newspaper, and nitrogen, such as nonmeat food scraps, coffee grounds, and pet or human hair. The ideal ratio is 2/3 carbon to 1/3 nitrogen by volume—a variety of materials and textures is crucial. Never add bones, dairy, meats, fat, or plants treated with pesticides.

HOW to do it:
In a composting bin or right on the ground (break up the first inch of topsoil), start with four inches of chopped carbon and two inches of chopped nitrogen. Break up the carbon and nitrogen with your hands or a shovel. Mix with handfuls of garden soil and water until the pile feels like a wrung-out sponge. Continue adding layers and mixing. Once you have a pile that’s at least three cubic feet, cover it with a sheet of black plastic secured with rocks or your container’s lid. Maintain and turn the pile weekly for about two months.

WHEN you can use it:
After leaving it untouched for about another two months.

WHERE to use it:
Mix compost into soil before planting, or use as a top dressing for vegetable plants, flowers, or your lawn.

WHY you should do it:
Around 58 percent of what Denver residents ship to the landfill is organic material.

-Illustrations by Dan Romanoff

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