Head to the Gunnison Valley when the conditions are just right and lace up for the joys of natural skiing.

Skating on wild ice requires just the right conditions—high altitude, cold temperatures and minimal early-season snow—and the season is fleeting, running from Halloween (or whenever the first lakes freeze) into early February. “The best ice to skate is the youngest, thinnest ice you can find,” says Gunnison resident Gregg Morin. Crossing thin ice sounds counterintuitive, but for Morin and a group of about 20 local adherents, safety is a top priority. Natural ice skaters use ice screws to check the ice. Bare minimum, it should be two inches thick. “And that has to be good quality ice,” Morin says, noting that–yes–skaters have fallen through, himself included. That’s why natural ice skaters wear life jackets, and carry whitewater rescue throw bags and picks. “If somebody goes in, we can toss them a rope,” Morin says. He can’t underscore this next point enough: “If you’re new to this kind of skating, you need to go with somebody who knows what they’re doing.” His group welcomes newcomers. —Jamie Siebrase