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Ride Smart: Riding on Ice

Tips to reduce your safety risks on frozen lakes or rivers
RELATED TOPICS: SAFETY | HOW-TO
snowmobile trail tracks ice safety tips
Looks can deceive on icy lakes and rivers. Know the ice conditions before you head across frozen waters.
While lakes and rivers can conjure visions of water sports in warmer months, snowmobilers look forward to the season when those water bodies provide easy access to some of their favorite trails and fishing spots. Sadly, some riders end up breaking through the ice, damaging or losing their equipment and sometimes even their lives. Caution should always be used when riding on ice, and snowmobilers need to know they do so at their own risk.

■ Verify ice conditions

Before riding in an area you’re not familiar with, contact local snowmobile shops and clubs to identify potential hazards. Study maps and trail advisories so you will know what to prepare for, and always check the weather forecast. 

Lakes and ponds, especiallythe larger ones, are not homogeneous. There are many factors that affect ice safety: currents, underwater springs, water depth, snow cover, and distance from shore are a few of them. One test hole cannot be trusted as an indicator of the ice condition over an entire body of water.
Ski-Doo Expedition Xtreme snowmobile ice safety tips
Drilling a series of holes from the thicker ice near the shore to the points further away is recommended. Be systematic, by verifying that the ice is solid and there are at least 5 inches of clear ice for snowmobile travel. Clear blue ice is much stronger than white “snow” ice. Think, “thick and blue, tried and true. Thin and crispy, way too risky.”

The dynamic forces of wind, water, and temperature can create significant changes in just a few hours. If you are returning from a day ride, always check the ice again before crossing. Also, keep in mind that while it looks like a wide-open space, there can be many potential hazards including logs, ice heaves, and debris, in ice. Be alert, travel during the day so you can see these obstacles before you hit them and be aware it will take longer to stop on ice.

And, if you find yourself on questionable ice, do not stop or turn around in a tight slow circle, instead keep up your momentum and take a wide turn toward the shore or safer ice conditions.
Ski-Doo Renegade XRS snowmobile REV4 ice safety tips
■ Ride with a buddy
Riding in groups is always a good idea when snowmobiling, but especially if there is a body of water to cross. If someone runs into trouble a group makes for a viable rescue. Be sure everyone in your group has had rescue training and is able to perform it safely. It is good practice to ride closer to the shore and in single file maintaining about 50 yards between each snowmobile. Never allow alcohol or other intoxicants to be used while on a ride.

■ Ice gear you need
There are a few items that are good to have if you plan to ride on ice. Please note, however, that these are last resort safety gear supplies and the best practice is to stay off the ice when possible, and to verify the quality and thickness of the ice regularly before you cross it.
  • Float Coats: Consider coats that are equipped with special material to assist with flotation. Be aware, however, while these will help you float, they will not pull you out of the water and hypothermia can quickly set in. See more in the first aid kit section below.
  • Ice picks: Getting out of the water is where these prove helpful. Picks are special awls that can be worn on a string around your neck and through your sleeves to your wrists. Made with a retractable cover, these become available for immediate use, helping you dig into the ice and pull yourself out.
  • A Good First Aid Kit: Even if you get out of the water, you will not be out of danger, hypothermia will be your next big threat.
Make sure everyone in your group has a first aid kit complete with a method to start a fire and thermal blankets.
snowmobile trail tracks on ice safety tips

WHAT IF YOU FALL INTO THE ICE?
  • Don’t panic; get your breathing under control
  • Position yourself at the point where you went in
  • Place your forearms on the ice in front of you and pull yourself out while kicking your feet vigorously to power yourself forward and out of the hole, employ your ice picks if you have them
  • Do not stand, instead, roll away until you’re sure you are on solid ice
For more, click here.
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