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Snowmobilers warned to beware

Lynn Lau
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Oct 28/02) - A spell of warm weather made for dangerous ice conditions in the Inuvik area last week.

On the river just below town, elder Billy Day says he's noticed snowmobile tracks over the patchy ice.

NNSL Photo

Taking chances -- A snowmobiler uses his machine to skim over a puddle of water near the Inuvik Boat Launch last spring. This photo was taken while the ice was still thick beneath a layer of water, but conditions last week were still marginal at best. - NNSL file photo

"It looks like people are taking some pretty dangerous chances," Day says. "I noticed some open spots and Ski-Doo trails all over the river."

He says anyone travelling should first check the thickness of the ice before they venture out with heavy snowmobiles. "Even with dog teams years ago, we used to check the ice and make sure it was safe to go on before we went out on it," Day says. "Usually we carry an ice chisel with a long handle to check the ice as we walked along. Especially out in the Delta, we always had a canoe with us."

Once snow falls on the ice, it becomes impossible to judge the quality of the ice without physically checking it. He suggests people travelling should have a long rope tied to their snowmobiles which can be used to haul out a driver or machine in the event of a break. "If you're travelling with others, your partner might have a chance to grab on to the rope and get you out. But if you're alone, its next to impossible. Our fresh water ice is brittle -- it will crack and break really easy. If it's not thick enough, you can't climb back on it."

He says life is too precious to gamble with thin ice conditions. "Today they have such fast Ski-Doos, the thought is you can go over anything and it's been proven that that's not always true."

This spring, a 29-year-old Inuvik man drowned after his snowmobile fell through the river ice, and every year, others have near misses as they take their chances on thin ice.

In Fort McPherson, Bertha Francis, who runs the bush radio, says young snowmobilers should always check with elders before travelling on the ice.

"There are people around Eight Mile and Scrapper Hill setting nets, and they're telling me the ice is very thin, so they have to have canoes right beside them. Our people, the older ones, when they're crossing, they use an axe. If the axe doesn't go through, it's fit to walk. If the axe goes through, they know it's not safe."

Francis says it's also wise to carry a long stick when travelling over marginal ice. "That stick can save you -- you put it across on the ice to stop you when you go down."