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Sledding on thin ice

It happens every late season—a snowmobiler mistakes the thickness of some lake or pond ice and crashes through the ice, snowmobile and all.

While the allure of a wide open space is understandable, snowmobiling on ice can encompass many dangers from unexpected ice heaves to hidden fissures to slushy ice covered over by a fresh snowfall.

“No one can guarantee the safety of frozen water,” said Jim Rolf, trails coordinator, New York State Snowmobile Association. “Snowmobilers should be aware that when they choose to ride on ice, they do so at their own risk.”

While there are no national statistics on snowmobiles plunging into lakes, rivers, streams or ponds, according to published media reports it was a busy time for first responders during the opening quarter of 2018: nine people went through “frozen” lakes in Maine during a 24-hour period in early January and six sleds went below the surface of Lake Adirondack in upper New York during one week in early March.

The easiest way to minimize the dangers of riding on frozen water is to check with an area bait shop popular with ice fishers or the local snowmobile club about ice conditions, especially if you are new to the area.

Even people who have been riding the same area and have navigated local frozen bodies of water for years shouldn’t let their guard down. As Rolf explained, an ice heave can happen within a couple of hours; so while a route was flat and safe on the way out, it could have dangerous upheavals by the time the snowmobiler returns home.

At the least, not paying proper attention to ice conditions can cost a rider their snowmobile, raise the ire of local authorities and accrue heavy costs for retrieval of the sled; at the worst it could take a life.

For more information on the dangers of sledding on thin ice and precautions to take if doing so, visit www.saferiderssafetyawareness.org.

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