As the ice grows thicker on the lakes and the weather grows steadily cooler, we on the Whitefish Chain of Minnesota want to remind outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy the lake ice safely this winter.
There is a certain magic in walking out onto a frozen lake. The perfectly smooth surface and cold, crisp air create a wintry ambiance that is unmatched. The sounds the ice makes, especially at sunup and sundown, are unparalleled and unlike anything you're likely to hear anywhere else.
Already ice houses and fishermen are appearing on the water, and it's important that we all remember the guidelines for ice thickness and what to watch out for as we venture out.
The Minnesota DNR says that ice is never 100 percent safe, and that's because ice thickness can vary from one area of the lake to another. Not all ice is created equally, either: good clear ice is much stronger than punky ice or frozen slush. White ice or "snow ice" is only about half as strong as new, clear ice.
The DNR recommends staying off ice that is less than 4 inches thick. Four inches is the guideline for safe walking on good clear ice. Five to 7 inches is the guideline for a snowmobile or ATV, 8-12 is the guideline for a car or small pickup, and 12-15 inches is the guideline for medium trucks.
It's important, especially on the Whitefish Chain, to stay away from channels. The Whitefish Chain has flow, and at the channels that flow is concentrated and prevents freezing. Channels like the one between Cross and Rush Lakes are never safe as they almost never have thick enough ice, even on the coldest January mornings. Because of this, local snowmobile routes take riders around the channels. Once trails open, follow the markers and groomed trails to be sure you're in a safe area.
Other things can keep the ice from freezing properly, such as springs and even schools of fish. The DNR recommends checking the ice as you go out for the first time with a spud (chisel), a battery-powered drill, auger or another tool. Checking on conditions with local bait stores and resorts is another way to be sure you're safe as you head out on the lake.
Once the ice is thick enough to drive on, be sure to park cars a good distance apart. Moving the car every couple of hours can also help prevent breaking through the ice.
Following these guidelines and exercising caution on the water helps ensure that you and your friends and family have a great time out on the ice, whether you're fishing, skating, snowmobiling or just exploring. Enjoy the magical winter season on the Whitefish Chain.