The ice can really draw you in as a snowmobiler. It’s a wide-open space where you can let loose and open up that throttle. It’s flat, fast and fun — things you don’t always get on the trails. When you get to the shoreline, you know you’re about to enjoy everything snowmobiling season has to offer.

As fun as it can be, the ice is also dangerous. First and foremost, you have a lot of other sleds to contend with. How safe are those other riders? Have any of them been drinking? Is it really safe to ride around them when everyone tends to go as fast as they can — sometimes bordering on recklessness? Plus, is there a chance that those riders will lose control on the slick ice, even when it’s coated in a powder cover of snow?

And that’s just the other riders. You also have to understand the dangers of the ice itself. People go through every year. Some signs that the ice isn’t safe include:

  • It’s too new. If the water was open yesterday and is now iced over, don’t trust it yet.
  • It’s too thin. Anything under four inches is risky, even for people just walking out to go ice fishing.
  • It’s gray and cloudy. This means it’s not as solid as blue ice, which is typically the safest, most secure ice you can find. For snowmobilers, it can be hard to check the color, as you may be looking for snow-covered ice anyway. Still, it helps to clear a section before riding.
  • It has large ridges or cracks. This either means that the ice could break apart, with these weak points, or that the water is moving under the ice and pushing it upward. Either way, it’s far more fragile than a smooth sheet.
  • No one else has been on it. If there are no tracks, it may indicate that the ice is very new and/or that the locals do not trust it yet. Bear this in mind when deciding how much you trust it.
  • You know there are currents under the ice. A still lake is far more stable, in many cases, than a river or a channel. Ice with currents under it can be thin and may break up.

These signs can help you avoid unsafe ice, but remember that it’s not always up to you. Maybe you’re riding with someone who ignores the warning signs. Maybe you go out on safe ice and get injured in an accident with another rider. These things happen, unfortunately. The key is to understand what legal rights you have to financial compensation.