Ice Ice Baby

I like thick ice and I cannot lie

By Tamara Spence

Any individual who spends their free time outdoors knows the exhilaration of the first snowfall. It’s refreshing how those unique and one-of-a-kind snowflakes bring so much joy; why exactly, we will never know. With the first few layers, it awakens the prospect of what our winters in this lovely city we call home has to offer – not to mention the areas of our land that will soon enough be accessible through the ability of travelling over bodies of water. It goes without saying that with colder temperatures comes the arrival of ice, which can make many of us want to dance like a carefree child without a million obligation weighing on us. But cold temperatures don’t necessarily mean safe ice, which is often overlooked.

It seems every year, regardless of countless stories in the media of people falling through the ice, near drownings, and, worst of all, the loss of life, people still put themselves in comprising situations while out on hard water (what us anglers call the heavenly cover of our bodies of water). As a university town it’s apparent that not everyone has the same knowledge as most of us, coming from different walks of life. Rest assured with a little bit of knowledge you will never have to worry about water-logged hunter boots and ruining the fur on your fresh Canada Goose parka.

It would be naïve to assume that safe ice is universal for everyone, and to think that everyone knows what safe ice looks like. If you click on your Instagram app right now, chances are you’ll see a handful of heroes walking around on ice – don’t be that guy. We all rely on each other to be able to pass on knowledge of ice conditions, and needless to say, it’s hard to soar with the eagles when you’re working with turkeys. Additionally the myth of “it’s been cold for a while now, so the ice has to be safe”…Well, that’s about as accurate as saying that going outside with wet hair will make you sick – trust me.

The easiest way to know if the ice is safe is to practice some patience. A lesson passed down to any angler or outdoor enthusiast is that it’s better to be the last one on the ice than the first one through it. The process never needs to be rushed and it’s a worthy practice to postpone at least a month after reduced temperatures before even attempting to check ice thickness. Once time has passed the best way to do this is with another person (safety in numbers). Smaller inland lakes freeze up faster than larger lakes like Lake Superior, so it’s always best to start there.

 The Argus had the opportunity to talk with Joe Kostecki, owner of Mighty Might Mitch and Jungle Joes Jig Flies, where he kindly provided his thoughts: “When you first go out at the start of the year stay close to shore line, do not cut across the middle of the ice- with one exception stay away from beaver dams and houses” This is some pretty solid advice from a seasoned and trusted outdoorsman, as you can never been too sure of a weakness in high traffic areas.

Checking ice thickness isn’t difficult and can usually be done with a chisel or (if you are an angler) an auger. If you do not have these tools available to you, your first move should always be to check out what colour the ice is and if there is an inflow (river, stream, creek). When there is an inflow, it reduces the ability for safer ice to form and generally will be weaker, so avoid these areas. When it comes to colour, the safest colour of ice is blue (clear). You generally want a minimum of 4 inches of this type of ice because it’s extremely dense and very strong. Ice that is white or opaque isn’t an ice that you should count on supporting your weight and is more deceiving than anything – it’s best practice to avoid walking on it. While the recommended thickness of safe ice for activities such as walking, snowshoeing, and ice fishing is 4 inches, why stop there? You never know what’s actually underneath and waiting around for the additional security is never a bad idea – treat yourself.

A final tip learned through years of experience is to always have a plan of action in case something does happen. Hypothermia is real and occurs more often than people think. An ice safety accessory that everyone should have if they plan on crossing water bodies is an ice pick, which can be picked up at D&R Sporting Goods for a relatively inexpensive price. If you’re low on cash, you can kick it old school and just carry a long stick to hold horizontally while walking. The stick acts as stopper from you being sucked under the ice. When outdoors, one thing to keep in mind while enjoying all that nature has to offer, is that safety should always come first and be your number one priority.

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