Lake rides can be a breakthrough opportunity for snowmobilers
Feb 11, 2014
You may be tired of the ice and cold this winter, but snowmobilers are taking advantage of the conditions to ride and enjoy this season's snowy splendor. Trails are the most popular choice for snowmobilers, but some seek out lakes and other open spaces. Even though lakes appear to be flat, wide open areas free of obstructions, they have a unique set of challenges that could lead to serious injury. Grinnell Mutual recommends using good judgment in choosing where to ride your snowmobile.
The safest snowmobiling rule is never to cross a frozen body of water on your machine. If you choose to ride your snowmobile on a lake, don't trust the judgment of other snowmobilers. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends checking with a local resort or bait shop about ice conditions or checking the ice yourself with an ice auger or chisel. Ice depth should be a minimum of five inches for snowmobiles.
Even on thick ice, operating a snowmobile a lake raises concerns for Laurie Cisewski, claims adjuster with Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company.
"Longer days and warm air temperatures may melt snow, creating water currents in lakes, streams, rivers, and ponds that can affect the thickness and strength of ice," said Cisewski. "In addition, snow cover can act as a blanket, which prevents thick, strong ice from forming and may mask deteriorating ice. There's always a possibility of going through and drowning."
What to do if you break the ice
If you do break through, try to remain calm and follow these tips from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
- Turn in the water towards the direction you came from. That is probably the strongest ice.
- Pull yourself out. Using ice picks, stab the ice, kick vigorously with your feet, and pull yourself onto the surface by sliding forward on the ice.
- Roll away from the area of weak ice. Rolling on the ice will distribute your weight to help avoid breaking through again.
- Get warm. Go to a heated shelter or vehicle, change into dry clothing, and warm yourself with non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated drinks.
Open spaces create unique challenges
On a frozen lake the threat of a collision comes from any direction.
"If you can ride and turn in any direction so can other riders," said Cisewski. 'In addition, you have far less traction for starting, turning and stopping on ice than on snow."
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends that you don't overdrive your snowmobile's headlight. Even at speeds as low as 30 miles per hour, it can take a much longer distance to stop on ice than your headlight shines. By the time you come upon an ice fishing house or a hole in the ice, it may be too late to avoid an accident.
"For the most enjoyable ride, have the right safety gear, clothing, limit your alcohol consumption, and ride at a safe distance," said Cisewski.