Salida sits in a rain shadow, where the Saguache and Sangre de Cristo ranges meet and capture much of the moisture, often leaving Salida dry. Meanwhile, minutes away in the high country, Ski Monarch gets feet of snow. (Salida receives only 10 inches of moisture a year on average, while Monarch gets 300+ inches snow.) It is not uncommon for downtown Salida to remain dry while the Saguache range gets an afternoon thunderstorm. Frozen precipitation can happen any time of year in the higher elevations.
Clothing: layer appropriately, pack extra non-cotton clothing, and always be prepared for colder and wetter weather to move in. Do not be deceived by crystal clear Colorado morning skies. It can be beautiful in the sun at high altitude, but a passing cloud with the wind whipping around the top of the mountain can make it suddenly feel much colder. Then throw in a thunderstorm, ice pellets, hail, and snow. The temperature can drop by 30 degrees in just a few minutes. Aside from chilly temperatures, afternoon thunderstorms can be a critical concern if you are above tree line on the Monarch Crest, CDT, or Colorado Trail.
Sunscreen: If you are going to be outside in one of our 300+ days of sunshine, sunscreen is a must. The EPA states: “UV intensity increases with altitude because there is less atmosphere to absorb the damaging rays. As a result, your chance of damaging your eyes and skin increases at higher altitude.” Always bring a little extra so you can reapply for long outings.
Hydration / Nutrition: In both higher and lower environments, hydration and nutrition is key to having a pleasant outing. In the lower elevations, it can be very hot and dry. For longer outings away from civilization, be sure to carry extra water and energy-rich snacks, especially if you are not used to exerting yourself at altitude. Always carry first aid and emergency supplies as well. If you are coming from sea level, try a few easier trails first and know the signs of altitude sickness.
A good general rule? Start early in the morning. If you start early enough at high altitude, it may be cold at first, but you’re less likely to have weather issues. Starting early at lower altitude, you are less likely to have heat/hydration issues in the summer.