Michigan Backcountry Search and Rescue shares tips for ice safety

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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – As the weather is beginning to get warmer, ice safety is increasingly important.

Michael Neiger, lead investigator for MIBSAR and experienced wilderness guide, says there are several precautions to take while out on the ice.

“This time of year late in the season, especially this year where it’s a lot milder, it’s been a really mild winter this is when the ice starts to deteriorate and becomes rotten so you get quickly changing ice conditions so it’s evermore important to monitor any ice that you’re going to go out on and really do it safely and consider what you’re doing and carrying some gear with you that’ll if you run into problems that you’ll be able to rescue yourself or help someone else,” said Neiger.

Generally, the integrity and strength of ice cannot be determined just by looking at ice. There are many variables when determining whether ice is safe to go on and it’s important to physically check the ice. Neiger says physically testing the ice by probing or checking for the sound it makes when thumping it.

Safety is important on ice because serious injury can occur by falling through.

“A big one is hypothermia you’re going to get cold really quick and the other hazard, the other big danger is getting out, is getting yourself out and so that’s huge,” said Neiger.

Things can impact the ice’s structural soundness including docks, currents, objects that attract heat or springs.

“Rivers are especially hazardous because if they’re moving all the time, number one they’re moving there’s a current so that can degrade the ice it can make thin spots,” said Neiger. “The other thing is rivers typically change levels and so most of the time most of your lakes they’re going to hold their levels fairly well and you’re going to have supported ice which is very very important, on a river you could have the water level drop and you could good solid ice but it’s not supported so its very weak.”

Water can also flow on top of the ice and degrade the quality of the ice. Snow on top of ice can hide holes and other less stable portions of ice.

Wearing a personal flotation device can help during the winter in the case of falling into ice. The pfd not only provides flotation if you fall in the ice but also insulates against the cold while wearing it.

Neiger says if you are out with another person while on the ice, tying off to a rope can help in case one falls in. The rope chosen should be one that floats on water. If one person were to fall into the ice, the other person can help pull the fallen out of the water.

Two people are each tied to one end of a rope while on ice in case one falls through the ice.

Other tools can be purchased to assist in the event of falling through the ice. Neiger recommends keeping a set of ice picks handy while out on the ice. Some may carry them in a jacket pocket, or through the sleeves of their coat. Ice picks can be used by gripping both, pulling yourself up on your elbows on the ice facing the direction you came from, then using the picks to pull yourself out of the hole by walking them across the ice. Once out of the water, avoid standing up right away and instead roll away from the hole before standing and walking back the way you came.

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