8 Ways to Minimize Risk While Snowmobiling on Ice

Snowmobiling on Lake Durant

Darrin @ ilsnow.com posing on Lake Durant, complete with 1970s shades

Snowmobiling on frozen lakes is a virtual fact of life when riding in the Adirondacks. With so many Adirondack towns named after the lakes they sit next to, that shouldn’t be a surprise: Indian Lake, Lake Pleasant, Long Lake, Piseco Lake, Tupper Lake, etc. I’ll grant that you can avoid riding lakes, but that will greatly limit your snowmobiling options, especially if you want to embark on a long ride from one town to the next.



How much ice is enough for snowmobiling?

Ice can never be considered totally safe, but this is a helpful guide:

Ice thickness for snowmobiling

During the heart of typical Adirondack winters, ice can be measured in feet on most lakes. There are few instances of snowmobiles falling through the ice, but it does happen!

Things to keep in mind:

Ice measurements from fishermen can be helpful. But exact measurements of ALL ice is impossible. Ice that is 8 inches thick near an ice shanty may be dangerously thin at other places on the lake.

(Given the same thickness) New, clear ice is stronger than ice that has been partially melted and refrozen.

Small, shallow lakes usually freeze faster than large, deep lakes.

Man-made lakes used for spring flood control like Indian Lake, Great Sacandaga Lake and Stillwater Reservoir can have WILD swings in lake levels. Dropping lake levels will cause ice heaves and expose rocks/stumps that were under water all summer. Rising lake levels will break up the ice near shore.

Heavy snow cover will insulate ice, slowing its freezing process.

Glare ice with inadequate snow cover will cause loss of traction, excessive slide wear, and overheat a liquid cooled engine.

Tips to minimize risk:

1. Don’t be the first to rush onto the ice at the beginning of the season. I usually wait at least 2-3 weeks after a lake has frozen before I’ll ride it, if the weather has been cold. If there has been a significant thaw, I’ll wait longer.

2. Monitor the weather carefully! A recent rain storm or significant thaw will greatly weaken the ice.

3. Enlist the guidance of a knowledgeable local or veteran snowmobile rider when you ride an unfamiliar lake for the first time.

4. Know the geography of the lakes that you ride so you can avoid the obvious weak spots near inlets and outlets.

5. Avoid riding lakes at night or during heavy snow/fog. Poor visibility hides a multitude of sins!

6. Use great caution when entering and exiting lakes. Shorelines can be rife with hazards including rocks, docks, retaining walls and stumps hidden under the snow.

7. If you are riding with children, be especially conservative in regards to snowmobiling on lakes. Endangering yourself is one thing, but endangering children is reckless.

8. WARNING: Heavy slush can be a sign of big trouble! At best, you may become horrendously stuck. At worst, there may be weak ice or NO ice under that slush!

IF you respect the dangers, snowmobiling the lakes can be great fun!

Bottom Line:

Snowmobiling on frozen lakes is ALWAYS at the rider’s risk. With so many factors that can undermine ice strength, I do not advise whether lakes are “SAFE” to ride on my trail reports even if I have ridden them. If ice conditions are unusually hazardous, I may advise people to stay off the ice. If you have any doubt about the ice, you’re best move is to avoid riding on it.

A live chicken is always better off than a dead duck!

Disclaimer: Information in this article is suggested guidance only. The reader incurs 100% responsibility and shall hold Darrin W. Harr and ilsnow.com harmless in the event of any harm or loss.

Comments welcomed!


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