Riding the ice is very popular in the winter. Many trails cross the ice of frozen bodies of water at some point. But you can never consider any frozen surface as a safe area for travel. This is why trails across the ice are not eligible for state snowmobile financial support. Drowning still remains one of the significant causes of snowmobile fatalities.
If you do decide to ride on the ice, you are responsible for your own safety. Make sure that the ice is thick enough. If you don't know, don't go. Four to five inches is the minimum that will support snowmobilers. You should also equip yourself with a throw rope that will float, and consider purchasing a floatation snowmobile suit. A set of ice picks could help you get out if you fall through.
Remember that ice is constantly changing. We usually experience a "January thaw" sometime during the winter, and that can have an adverse affect on ice thickness. Areas can thaw and re-freeze, sometimes leaving pockets between layers of ice. You can break through the surface ice and still have solid ice underneath a layer of water or air. But don't count on it.
is not constant in thickness on any given body of water. It tends to be thinner
around the edges of ponds and lakes, and near open water. Any area of moving water,
such as inlets and outlets, fast moving currents, or an area over a spring will
tend to have thinner ice or no ice at all.
When ice gets thick, it expands to the point that it cracks and heaves, leaving surface pressure ridges that are large enough to cause big trouble. On big lakes, like Lake Champlain, these pressure ridges can reach several feet high. If you are planning to make any speed runs on the ice, make sure to inspect the entire area you plan to use at a low speed to make sure there are no surface irregularities, ice houses, or other people that could cause problems. Also remember that if you come within one hundred feet of anyone or anything on the ice other than another snowmobiler, you must slow down to the minimum speed to maintain forward motion until you move away.
If you do fall through the ice, don't panic. Any snowmobile suit will trap enough air to keep you afloat for several minutes. Keep your gloves on. Slide back onto the ice using anything sharp to get a better grip. Kick your feet like a seal to help propel you onto the ice. Roll away from the hole. Don't attempt to stand until you are well away from it.