Basic Winter Safety

A cabin in winter
Winter activities have broadened to the point that everyone can get out there. PHOTO: Pixabay

Where we live, winter uses up a lot of our time each year. The duration varies a bit, but it’s still a lengthy period that we have to make adjustments for, based on conditions. Cabin fever (a.k.a. SAD) used to be very common, but in recent times, winter activities have broadened to the point that everyone can get out there, at least some of the time, and feel better for it.

Snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice-skating, winter camping and bison hunting are common winter activities that often, if not usually, take us well off the beaten path. Ice thickness, snow depth, extreme cold, darkness, broken equipment and poor planning create unplanned situations that are commonly referred to as emergencies. These can be and often are life-threatening and death-resulting situations.

All of the above-mentioned winter activities likely involve travel on frozen lakes, rivers and swamps—any of which can have varying ice thickness due to currents, upwelling springs, overflow, river or creek entries, depth and other unpredictable circumstances. These conditions can result in thinner or thicker ice in just a few hours or days.

Ice thickness is very important, as thicker ice can usually support more weight. It is always prudent, when the ice is not predictable, to not stand close together in groups or to park snow machines or sleds without keeping them some distance from the others. It doesn’t take much more time to be careful. Checking ice thickness is part of a safety plan, but often the location to check is closer to shore where the ice is often thicker. In the early season, out near the middle of the lake, there may not be any ice, yet, while closer to shore the ice may well be thick enough for activities. Over the years, there have been more than a few Yukoners who have snowmachined or skated off the ice edge into open water. This has most often been in the dark of night where more precautions are essential.

Overflow (upwelling of water on top of the ice surface) can create frightening moments for outdoor winter enthusiasts. It is often invisible because of fresh snow on top. If you are skiing, snowshoeing or walking, you will not have gone far into the overflow before you realize it. That allows you to reverse direction and get out of the situation fairly quickly, with or without getting wet up to the thighs. A snowmobile is a very different situation because even a slow machine goes fast enough to get you well into the unseen overflow situation. The best advice I can give at that moment of realization is to go as fast as you can and make a U-turn (ASAP) to get back out of the overflow conditions. Continuing forward is ill-advised, as you would have no idea how far the overflow situation extends.

Bogging down in overflow is not uncommon and can be very serious, depending on your location and the availability of assistance. Avoiding or escaping overflow is a far better solution to the problem.

Winter Maintenance: A Cure For The Doldrums

This cold, dark time of the year affects all of us to a greater or lesser extent depending on our attitude and inclination to do something to pass the time away. Our winter activity menu is vast and readily attainable depending on how much time you wish to spend outdoors. Of course, our indoor activity schedule is now extremely varied with all of the learning experiences available at the community level.

Due to one reason or another, we may still find ourselves with some spare time on our hands that we would like to fill with a positive activity. Checking, repairing and evaluating your outdoor/recreational equipment are positive ways to fill many hours. Plus, next season (which is never far away) you will be pleased with yourself for having brought your equipment up to snuff and maybe even for getting rid of some useless items you have had for years in your camping or tackle boxes. These chores can be done alone (if you need some space), with a friend or, depending on attitudes or task complexity, with your kids. This can be valuable “together time” and a learning experience for them.

There are some obvious advantages to having a space where stuff can be left out (for a few days only!) if you aren’t finished when you have to leave it. You can then pick up where you left off without having to lay it all out again.

Fishing gear is a good and easy place to start. Empty the tackle box (or boxes) onto a table or bench and wash/wipe the boxes. A shop-vac can be useful here. I would then sort the gear into categories such as spoons, spinners, crankbaits, jigs, hooks, weights, leaders, etc. They can be wiped clean before being put back in the box. Sorting is where the only real challenge arises. This is the point where you discard anything broken or rusty, and stuff that appealed to you but has never had the same effect on a fish. Remember the old rule that fishing lures were designed to first catch you and then maybe a fish or two. Fishing rods should also be inspected for damage, loose wrappings on guides, or damaged reel mounts. Downriggers have clips to check, along with the mesh or telescoping handle on landing nets. Lines break down in sunlight and may need to be replaced (or just remove the first 10 to 15 metres if frayed or kinked).

Waders, boots or other footwear can be examined for leaks, tears, and lace or insole replacement. Rain gear often gets torn or splits at a seam. There are many patch kits and adhesives for footwear, rain gear and other outer garments.

Paddles, oars and push poles can all be inspected and repaired, if needed, in the warmth of the basement or garage. Ropes, tarps and PFDs (life jackets) should be looked at as well. PFD weight limitations may no longer be adequate if growing children are part of the group who are enjoying the equipment.

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