Lake Champlain Ice Safety
There are many activities that you can enjoy on Lake Champlain in the winter. From ice fishing to cross-country skiing, from snowmobiling to skating or kite-boarding – Lake Champlain offers a wealth of outdoor fun to enjoy safely. Here are some simple things to help keep your outing fun and safe.
Important Ice Facts
- New ice is usually stronger than old ice. Four inches of clear, newly formed ice may support one single person on foot, while a foot or more of old, partially thawed ice might not.
- Ice rarely freezes uniformly. It might be a foot thick in one place and only an inch or two just a few feet away.
- Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often dangerous. This is especially true near streams, bridges and culverts. Also, the ice outside river bends is usually weaker due to the undermining effects of the faster current.
- The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process. The extra weight can also cut the amount of weight that the ice sheet can support. Also be aware that the ice near shore can be considerably weaker than ice that is farther out.
- Booming and cracking ice isn’t necessarily dangerous. It only means that the ice is expanding and contracting as the temperature changes.
- Schools of fish or flocks of waterfowl can also affect the relative safety of ice. The movement of fish can bring warm water up from the bottom of the lake. In the past, this has opened holes in the ice causing snowmobiles and cars to break through.
Recommended Minimum Ice Thickness
2″ or less – STAY OFF
4″ – Ice fishing, skiing, skating or other activities on foot
5″ – Snowmobile or ATV
8″ – 12″ – Car or small pickup
12″ – 15″ – Medium truck
Note: These guidelines are for new, clear solid ice.
There are many other factors than thickness that can make ice unsafe.
* White ice or “snow ice” is only about half as strong as new clear ice. Double the above thickness guidelines when traveling on white ice.
SAFETY TIPS FOR TRAVELING ON ICE
The following guidelines can help you make wise choices:
Test the thickness yourself using an ice chisel or spud, an ice auger or even a cordless 1/4 inch drill with a long bit.
- Avoid driving on ice when possible. If you must drive a vehicle, be ready to leave it in a hurry – keep the windows down and have a simple emergency plan of action that you’ve discussed with your passengers.
- Refrain from alcoholic beverages. Even a couple of beers are enough to cause a careless error in judgment that could cost you your life. And contrary to common belief, alcohol actually makes you colder and doesn’t warm you up.
- Don’t “overdrive” your snowmobile’s headlight. At 30 miles per hour, it can take a longer distance to stop on ice than your headlight shines. Many fatal snowmobile through-the-ice accidents occur because the machine was traveling too fast for the operator to stop when the headlamp illuminated a hole in the ice.
Always bring two ice picks and wear them around your neck so that they are within quick reach. The ice picks really help pulling yourself back onto solid ice. It’s amazing how difficult it is to pull yourself back on the surface of wet, slippery ice while you’re wearing a snowmobile suit weighted down with 60 lbs of water.
- Wear a personal flotation device (PFD) under your winter gear. Or wear one of the new flotation snowmobile suits. Note: Do not wear a PFD when traveling across the ice in an enclosed vehicle.
Now, you’re ready to go. Get out on the ice and enjoy the Lake Champlain ice safely.