Ice is Nice (but be safe out there)

Muskoka’s landscape is dramatically different in the winter. Snow-covered branches replace the fiery foliage of fall and the lakes become a frozen expanse of ice. One of the highlights of visiting a lake community in the winter is heading out on the ice for a variety of activities. Rinks get cleared for skating and impromptu games of shinny. Ice fishing huts create mini-villages where there were once rafts and boats. Tracks from snowmobiles and cross-country skis crisscross the lake.

But all that fun on the ice does have risks and it’s important to know how to stay safe. Clear, hard new ice (usually blue-coloured) is safest. White or opaque ice is weaker and should be treated with caution. Ice that has a honeycombed look (common in the spring or if there is a thaw) should be avoided completely.

When possible, measure the thickness of the ice before venturing out. Ice less than 3 inches thick is unsafe and should not be travelled on. At 4 inches, the ice is safe for ice fishing, walking and cross-country skiing. At more than 5 inches, one-way snowmobile and ATV traffic is okay. But remember that ice doesn’t freeze uniformly. Even 10 feet away from a safe area, the ice could be thinner.

Regardless of the ice thickness, you should always stay away from permanent structures on the ice like docks and boathouses. The ice around these can be weak and should be considered unsafe. Also avoid slushy ice, ice that has thawed and then refrozen, pressure ridges or cracks, and layered or ‘rotten’ ice due to sudden temperature changes. Also avoid areas with lots of snow - heavy snowfall insulates and may even melt existing ice.

This winter, we have seen fluctuations in temperature from above 0C to below -20C. That means that ice in some areas should be treated with extreme caution. Always check the conditions before heading out and “if you don’t know, don’t go”. Choose another location for your activity instead.

Being out on the ice can be an amazing experience. Just remember to stay safe out there.

Do you have fond memories of being on the ice in Muskoka? Leave us a comment to tell us about it!

The Howell Family