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How To Test The Strength Of Ice To Cross Over

How To Test The Strength Of Ice To Cross Over

Traveling across ice can be very dangerous with any type of vehicle. It’s unsafe to assume ice thickness—it could be quite thick in one area and thin in another. This is determined by several different factors. The water running beneath the ice can create inconsistency, as well as fluctuating temperatures and weather conditions. In order for you to safely cross over ice, you must determine the thickness. Failure to do this could put your life at risk and seriously damage (or total) your sled. The ability to control the snowmobile declines, especially if you’re driving too fast. The last thing you want is a spinning, uncontrollable sled. There are a few ways you can test the ice and obtain certainty about crossing. This guide will help get you from point A to point B in one piece.

  1. Assessing the Ice: As you approach an icy area, slow down to a stop on solid ground so you can better assess the ice thickness. You can do this with an ice chisel, ice auger, or cordless drill. If you’re using an ice chisel, simply drive it into the ice and measure the thickness with a tape measure through the hole. If you instead have an auger—hand, electric, or gas work equally well—drill a hole in the ice and measure. For cordless drills, they need to be powerful enough to drill through the solid ice. A 5/8” wood auger bit will get the job done thanks to its flute spiral shaft design. When using the tape measure, be sure to hook the metal edge to the bottom of the ice for a good reading.

    Here are the minimum guidelines for new, clear ice:

    UNDER 4″ : STAY OFF!
    4″: Ice fishing or other activities on foot
    5″ - 7″: Snowmobile or ATV
    8″ - 12″: Car or small pickup
    12″ - 15″: Medium truck

    Thus, we need the ice for snowmobiling purposes to be somewhere in between 5” and 7” thick. If the ice is white (also called snow ice), then these measurements should be doubled. Once you’ve determined that the ice is safe to cross, check ahead 150 feet. The entire path you anticipate driving much be confirmed safe. Don’t assume one check will be good enough. Slushy ice and ice near moving water must be avoided. If the ice appears layered, it’s referred to as rotten and not safe to travel on.

  2. Preparing to Cross: Before driving over the ice, take a few minutes to check off on some precautionary measures. If you’ll be traveling over ice often, you may want to invest in a buoyant snowmobile suit. This will help keep you afloat in the off chance that you fall through the ice. You can also just put on a life jacket underneath your gear. Other great items to have at the ready are retractable ice picks. These can be kept in your jacket to dig out built-up snow around your slides and even help pull you out of the water.

  3. Crossing the Ice: Once you’re ready to go, approach the ice slowly. If you’re crossing during the day, then visibility shouldn’t be a concern. However, if you have to cross a frozen lake or river at night, your headlight will help tremendously. One thing to avoid is speeding. Even going around 30 mph is much too fast. You instead want to maintain a nice low speed to have control over the sled. You don’t want to put more stress on the ice than necessary, and speeding could make it spin out. Loss of control could result in more ice breaking and serious injury. Make a complete crossing before increasing your speed again.

  4. What If I Do Fall into The Ice?: This shouldn’t happen if you measured the ice thickness correctly, but stranger things have happened! Should the ice crack and break apart, you very well could fall in. If this happens, try not to panic. If you’ve got a life jacket or buoyant suit, you’ll be able to hoist yourself up onto solid ice or swim towards land. You can also use those ice picks mentioned earlier to strike into solid ice and pull yourself out of the water. Once out, determine where the sled went. If it didn’t fall in, great! Maybe it did—can you easily pull it out? If it’s totally submerged or lodged, you should seek safety first. Exerting energy in a cold, wet snowsuit is not what you want to be doing at that moment.

Crossing ice is no easy task and should always be approached with caution. When measurements are taken and you keep a slow and steady pace, driving over ice should be a manageable task.

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