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Keeping Safe For The Holidays and Entire Winter Season

By Jan Dalton
Safety Specialist

I was almost four the first time I ventured out on the ice to fish with my dad and two brothers. While I happily pursued that hobby until moving to Hawaii, some 15 years later, it never occurred to me what a wildly dangerous activity it can be. 

Consider this statistic: According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), there are approximately five ice related deaths each year. Although the mode of entry varies from snowmobile, motor vehicle, or on foot, one aspect remains constant—the mishaps are 100 percent preventable.

It’s so easy to follow the advice of the professionals:  Never walk on ice less than four inches thick. Don't snowmobile on less than five inches or drive your car on less than eight inches of new clear ice. Factors that affect the strength of ice vary, such as the age of the ice, outside temperature, and distribution of the load on the ice, but what affects it the most lies beneath the surface.  Water depth, size of the body of water, its chemistry and currents from rivers and river outlets all impact its strength.  Currents, for example, affect ice by eroding it--even though there is no indication of weakening on the surface.

Be aware of these hazards, prepare for an emergency, and have a recovery plan in the event you do fall through the ice.  The DNR advises never to drive on the ice at night, avoid pressure ridges and areas with a current. 

If you do choose to drive, roll your windows down and leave doors partially open to avoid becoming trapped if your car breaks through, and carry ice picks or two large nails to use as ice picks to pull yourself out if you fall through thin ice.  Ice picks, also known as ice rescue claws, can be purchased at any outdoor recreation or sporting goods store. If they aren't connected, it is advisable to connect with a string.

You can also make your own ice rescue claws using two nails and two dowels. The dowels serve as the handle and nails as the ice pick.  If you do go through the ice, remember the following: try not to panic, turn towards the direction you came, place hands and arms on the unbroken surface, kick your feet and dig in your ice picks to work your way onto solid ice.  Once lying on the ice, do not stand up, but instead roll away from the hole.

Watch for frostbite and other symptoms of cold-weather exposure. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, tip of nose and ear lobes. If symptoms are detected, get medical attention immediately. Do not rub with snow or ice - this does not help the condition and, in fact, will make it worse. The best treatment for frostbite is rewarming of affected tissue. 

Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid alcohol because, despite what you may think, alcohol does not warm the body.  Not only will alcohol mask the symptoms of frostbite, but it will dehydrate you, and that puts you at a greater risk.

Keep yourself and your clothes dry. Change wet socks and all other wet clothing as quickly as possible to prevent loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly.

Enjoy the holiday and winter season both indoors and out. But give some thought to how you can keep yourself safe when enjoying the many outdoor activities such as snowmobiling, skiing, hunting and ice fishing.



Last updated: June 8, 2020