Ice is never completely safe

Since the arrival of cold winter weather, the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest’s lakes and streams are popular places to be for winter activities.

Whether you are an ice skater or angler or are planning to cross a river or stream on skis or a snowmobile, a little pre-planning can go a long way toward making your winter outing safe and enjoyable.

Ice can be deceptive. There is no way to tell by looking at or stomping on the ice or by consulting the weather forecast if it is safe to cross, skate or fish. Even on the same body of water, ice strength can vary.

The U.S. Forest Service and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources do not monitor ice conditions.

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest officials recommend that area residents check with a local bait shop, fishing club or resort to find out about the ice conditions.

They usually have the most up-to-date information on lakes, rivers and streams in their areas. They can tell you which water bodies are safe and which are dangerous.

Here are a few more winter and ice safety tips:

– Wear proper clothing, bring plenty of snacks and water and make sure you and your companions are prepared. Bring a back-up pair of gloves or mittens. Wear ice creepers on your boots which may help to prevent slips on the ice.

– Do not travel in unfamiliar territories at night.

– Let someone know where you are going and when to expect you back.

– Bring your cell phone but be aware it may not work in many areas of the forest.

If you’re going onto the ice here are a few more safety recommendations from the DNR:

– Currents found in inlets, outlets or narrows may not freeze enough to carry a person or vehicle.

– Be on the lookout for pressure ridges or ice heaves. These could be camouflaging thin ice or open water.

– Put a couple of spikes and a length of light rope in an easily accessible pocket. You can use these to help pull yourself – or someone else – out of the ice.

Additionally, Wisconsin DNR Recreation Safety Chief Todd Schaller offers the following tips:

– Always remember that ice is never completely safe under any conditions.

– Fish or walk with a friend. It’s safer and more fun.

– Wear proper clothing and equipment, including a life jacket or a float coat to help you stay afloat and to help slow body heat loss.

– Carry a spud bar to check the ice while walking to new areas.

– Do not travel in unfamiliar areas – or at night.

– Know if the lake has inlets, outlets or narrows that have currents that can thin the ice.

– Look for clear ice. Clear ice is generally stronger than ice with air bubbles in it or with snow on it.

– Take extra mittens or gloves so you always have a dry pair.

– Driving on ice is always a risk. Use good judgment and consider alternatives.

“Because of its unstable condition and unpredictability, anyone who travels on frozen lakes and rivers is taking a risk, and should use caution,” Schaller says.