The ice isn’t safe. Don’t do anything stupid

Because this is an opinion piece, and because I’m not even making an attempt to be nice, or politically correct, or unbiased, or even friendly, I’ll say this just once, in a way that might (finally) make a difference.

The arrow shows where a snowmobile went through the ice on Long Pond in Southwest Harbor on Wednesday. The line heading directly to shore, toward the top of the photo) is where the man and two girls who were on the snowmobile swam to shore. The other line is the path left by the snowmobile before it went through the ice. (Photo courtesy of Maine Warden Service)

If you’re considering going out onto your favorite lake in the coming days, do me a favor: Don’t do anything stupid.

I don’t like writing stories about people who fall through the ice and end up dying. For that matter, I don’t like writing stories about people who fall through the ice and end up living. In fact, I hate writing about people ending up in potentially life-threatening trouble by engaging in conduct that is predictably dangerous.

Here’s your warning: If you go onto the ice this weekend, and you don’t know the lake you’re going out onto, and you haven’t checked the ice YOURSELF, and you hop onto or into a vehicle that weighs several hundred pounds, you are doing something that is predictably dangerous.

And predictably, I will likely have to write the story of your untimely demise when I arrive for work on Monday morning.

Doubt it? Think I’m just being a spoilsport? Consider:

  • In Belgrade on Thursday night, two snowmobilers broke through thin ice on Long Lake and nearly drowned.
  • In Denmark on Thursday, a man and his daughter became submerged on a water-covered section of snowmobile trail. Both showed signs of hypothermia.
  • In Sangerville on Wednesday, two men struggled to get to shore after their snowmobiles broke through the ice on Manhanock Pond.
  • In Southwest Harbor on Wednesday a man and two girls had to swim to shore on Long Pond after their snowmobile went through the ice.

All of these folks were lucky. The next one through the ice might not be. And while I can’t say that any of these riders was acting foolishly — they were likely unaware of the dangerous conditions — anyone who reads this blog today won’t have that excuse.

Now, after so many incidents in a two-day span, and after reading this scolding screed, you know better.

The Maine Warden Service is urging anyone heading onto lakes and ponds should use extreme caution. Last week’s storm deteriorated the ice conditions in ways that aren’t obvious, and many previously safe lakes have lost much of their ice in spots.

Here’s their official warning, verbatim:

Rain and warm temperatures late last week deteriorated ice conditions significantly statewide. The recent return to cold temperatures should not relax the need for extreme caution on Maine’s waterways. These latest incidents are clear indications that ice conditions are very hazardous. Accessing lakes and ponds should be avoided unless operators can be certain of ice conditions. Those not familiar with ice conditions are encouraged to contact local snowmobile clubs for ice safety information.

So, there you have it. Be careful. Stay off the ice. Listen to me. Listen to the wardens. Listen to your wife, or your brother, or whoever it is who typically keeps you from doing something that puts you in harm’s way.

Because sometimes, you only get one chance to do something stupid.

Let’s make sure that this weekend, you don’t become a statistic of the worst kind.


John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.