Coming soon: Utah on ice

  • Published
  • By Al Payne
  • 75th Air Base Wing Safety

(This article is part of HillAFB’s Winter Safety series. Prepare for the winter season with these helpful tips.)

Utah and its surrounding states have excellent opportunities for you and your family to have fun on the ice.  Ice fishing, snow shoeing, cross country skiing, ice skating and snowmobiling are just a few of the accessible winter activities. 

Enjoying winter activities must be done safely and responsibly. There are an average of four to five ice related deaths each year.

Following these basic safety guidelines can reduce risk dramatically:

Be prepared. Safe ice conditions can last from a couple weeks to a couple of months.  Research websites and talk to local residents to find out how thick ice is.  Clear ice is stronger than cloudy ice. Use the chart to gage how much the ice thickness should be to support your outdoor activity. 

Be extra cautious near mountain reservoirs. Some mountain reservoirs have constant flows from streams that affect water levels.  Ice can rise and fall from one week to the next.  Often, the areas near the shoreline have the weakest ice due to these fluctuations.  Most mountain reservoirs are extremely deep and the areas near shore have steep drops where one misstep will put you over your head.

Purchase a cold weather suit with a built-in floatation device. If you are frequently on the ice, it can be worth the extra money to purchase a suit or an automated flotation device.  If you fall through the ice and can’t get out of the frigid water, the flotation in the suit will give you a better chance to stay on top of the water and be rescued.

Purchase ice picks and have them ready for use.  It’s best to thread the ice pick lanyard through the sleeves of your jacket or shirt and have the picks sticking out of the cuffs of your jacket or hand openings of your shirt.  Picks will do you very little good if they aren’t ready for emergency use.

Carry a rope and flotation device you can throw to someone in need of assistance; stay on safe ground or ice so you don’t become a second victim. 

If you use a heater in a shelter, make sure you keep the vents open for proper ventilation.  Having a portable carbon monoxide detector is a good idea to keep in your safety kit.

Leave the ice before dark so you aren’t turned around when trying to navigate back to your vehicle. Knowing how to use a GPS can help in returning to your vehicle too.  Mark your vehicle position before going on the ice and make sure the batteries are fresh.  Cold temperatures quickly drain smart phone batteries, so have a portable power source.

Stay hydrated and wear sun screen.  You may think being in the cold, you don’t need to worry about staying hydrated, but your body is working harder to keep warm.  On sunny days, the sun can burn you from above and from the ice reflection below. 

Check the weather forecast and dress in layers.  Dressing in layers will easily allow you adjust for the temperature shifts and match your activity levels.  The goal is to keep warm without sweating.

Always go on the ice with a friend and share your plans with someone.  A friend can provide immediate help by throwing a rope or flotation device and calling 911.  Sharing the lake, reservoir or river name along with the exact location of your activities will give search crews a starting point.