Scouting Ice

If there is ice somewhere that no one sees, does it actually exist? Or is that something to do with a tree falling? Anyway we all understand that finding the ice is the secret to winter happiness. With that in mind, here are some guidelines for developing the skills needed to make the tough calls. They are from the Swedish ice hound Kerel Van Der Voort. Using these techniques he was able to organize a skating weekend for a small group on a series of lakes and rivers 600 miles north of Stockholm last month. Yes LAST month! They were there in the middle of October!Most of what he’s discussing has to do with skating, but they can certainly be applied to sailors as well.

Thanks to Karel for sharing these with us, and we wish you many miles of black ice.

The right timing of a long distance skating trip without much available local information takes a lot of planning and studying of weather models and maps of the area. It is very challenging and if done appropriately, an extremely rewarding learning experience. Strangely enough, it is kind of neglected. Practical matters that should be paid more attention to are for instance:

– how to interpret weather forecasts
– which forecasts tend to be most reliable
– when do you decide to go based on what data/assumptions
– how to know which bodies of water in chosen remote area will catch
– preparation and choosing itinerary
– where to find that extra centimeter of ice thickness
– building a network of local residents/hotels etc. in particular area
– list of webcams, which directories or weather sites have included them
– conversion of a lake, to which extent can webcam images be useful to determine
– how to find that glossy corner of ice for most spectacular reflection of sunlight
– ice safety margin: how thick must black ice be to safely cross a small size or medium lake
– how to establish/avoid possible weak spots or areas driving around a lake, escape route
– how to judge the amount of cracking and pitch of the sound of thin ice as a useful measure of how safe the ice is to skate on
– how to find snow free ice or ice with converted snow when the area you are in is unexpectedly struck by (light) snowfall. Finding snowfall borderline, submergence of ice by the weight of snow etc.
– frost covered ice surface: in what kind of conditions does it occur.

Considerations for an ‘after rain’ skate window, in other words existing ice with wet/refrozen snow converted surface, including:

– how much thaw/rain is needed to clear black ice from a certain amount of freshly fallen snow
– how to know if a slush surface is hard enough to be skated when observed from a webcam.
– rain/water on ice; how many extra days of skating when a relatively thick sheet of ice is covered with a layer of water in continuous thaw.
– heat flux: in what conditions will a converted snow ice surface refreeze in plus zero temp.
– ice in decay: red flags etc.

As we all know, ice timing takes total flexibility. My adventures may or may not help provide you with some tools for long distance ice scouting and ice trip planning.
Knowing ice in and out and a lot of experience will help perfecting the ice result and joy. Use your intuition, but think methodically about ice result.

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