Michigan Winter Outdoor Safety Tips

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Fenton, MI — December 27, 2021

Michigan offers many winter outdoor activities, especially this week when the kids are out of school and many workers have a break in the schedule between Christmas and New Year’s. If you are venturing outside to enjoy our State’s winter wonders, here are some tips from the Michigan Department of Resources to keep you safe and enjoy the adventures that await.

“People often get caught up in the excitement of the moment and overlook general winter safety,” said Lt. Tom Wanless, with the DNR Law Enforcement Division’s Recreational Safety, Enforcement and Safety Section. “We want to send out a beginning of the season reminder to please keep safety in mind this winter. Dress for the weather, check the forecast before you go out and, if you’re snowmobiling, please ride sober and at a safe speed.”

Regardless of your favorite winter activity, prepare before you leave the house by checking, dressing, and packing for the weather.

Here is a safety checklist:

  • Wear light layers that can easily be added or removed – it is possible to overheat even during the winter.
  • Carry the appropriate equipment for your activity, such as a flashlight, rope, ice picks, or ice claws.
  • Have spare equipment available in case something breaks.
  • Stay hydrated and fueled – bring water and snacks.
  • Bring a buddy.
  • Inform others about where you will be and how long you plan to be gone and schedule check-in times.
  • Carry a two-way communication device that receives service in remote areas.
  • Be aware of your health – if you’re not feeling well, don’t go out.

In Michigan, all snowmobile operators between ages 12 and 16 are required to obtain a Michigan-approved snowmobile safety certificate to operate without a legal guardian or to cross a highway or street. Earn your snowmobile safety certificate or purchase a trail permit online at Michigan.gov/Snowmobiling.

The DNR’s Ride Right snowmobile safety campaign emphasizes the importance of riding sober, at a safe speed, and on the right side of the trail. Speed is the main factor in fatal and serious injury snowmobile accidents.

  • Ride on the right side of the trail.
  • Ride at a safe speed.
  • Ride sober.
  • Anticipate and yield to groomers.
  • Don’t use modified exhausts.
  • When approaching an intersection, come to a complete stop, raise off the seat and look both ways for traffic.
  • Ride safe, so you make it home to your family and friends.

If you plan to plan to be around iced over bodies of water, always use extreme caution:

  • Your safety is your responsibility! There is not a reliable “inch-thickness” to determine if ice is safe.
  • You can test ice thickness and quality using a spud, needle bar, or auger.
  • Strongest ice: clear with a bluish tint.
  • Weak ice: ice formed by melted and refrozen snow. Appears milky.
  • Stay off any ice with slush on top. Slush ice is only half as strong as clear ice and indicates the ice is not freezing from the bottom.
  • A sudden cold front with low temperatures can create cracks within a half-day.
  • A warm spell may take several days to weaken ice and cause the ice to thaw during the day and refreeze at night.
  • Ice weakens with age.
  • If there’s ice on the lake but water around the shoreline, be extra cautious.
  • The stronger the current on the lake, the more likely the ice will give to open water.
  • Avoid areas of ice with protruding debris like logs or brush.
  • Keep an eye out for dock bubblers or de-icers as the ice near these mechanisms will be unsafe. Always check the ice and be aware of your surroundings.
Ice Fishing / Photo Courtesy of the Michigan DNR

Here are more ice safety tips, including what to do if you fall through the ice:

  • Remain calm
  • Don’t remove winter clothing. Heavy clothes won’t drag you down but instead, provide warmth.
  • Turn in the water toward the direction you came from, this is most likely the strongest ice.
  • If you have ice picks, dig the points of the picks into the ice while vigorously kicking your feet to pull yourself onto the surface by sliding forward on the ice.
  • Roll away from the area of weak ice. Rolling on the ice will distribute your weight to help avoid breaking through again.
  • Get to shelter and remove your wet clothing, redressing in warm, dry clothing and consume warm, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages as soon as you can.
  • Call 911 and seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, have uncontrollable shivering, or have any other ill effects that may be symptoms of hypothermia, which is a life-threatening condition.