Skating on natural ice under a diamond-studded sky is skating at its best.
Want to try it?
You’ll need to dress warmly -- all over. You’ll want to make a bonfire and
roast some wieners and marshmallows, and you’ll probably take along a jug of
hot chocolate. You may want a stool to sit on when putting skates on and off.
And you’ll be smart to take a long rope and a referee’s whistle.
Rope? Whistle? Yes, for the same reason lifeguards use ropes and whistles. As
with swimming, one person should be the overall “boss” or lifeguard when
groups skate over the natural ice of ponds, creeks, rivers, lakes, etc.
That boss should be sure the ice is 4 inches thick and should alert skaters to
dangerous spots such as:
Holes where geese swim to keep on open hole for feeding and drinking, or where
horses and cattle drink.
Spots where spring water comes out of the ground under the ice -- it’s warmer,
Places in flowing streams where the ice is non-existent or only flaky thick.
Rotten ice. Melting ice can break up even when its more than six inches thick.
Missouri is a state that teases skaters: zero cold today, thawing tomorrow,
freezing again today tomorrow night. It takes experience to determine just
when the ice is safe. In northern states, it stays cold for weeks or months at
a time. In the south, there’s not enough natural ice to warrant owning skates.
But in the middle states, like Missouri, the dangers are different.
Wherever you live, be prepared to get to safety quickly if there’s an
emergency. The best way to assure this is to skate over shallow water. The
person in charge can determine this by chopping holes or by studying the way a
pond or lake is built -- the dam usually holds back the deeper water. On the
opposite side, there’s often a sloping “beach” and a strip along the
shoreline where the water is shallow beneath the ice. Wet feet and legs are no
fun, but they’re not life-threatening.
The boss can mark off the shallow area with gallon jugs of water, placing them
in an imaginary line beyond which no skater may go. Three blasts of the
whistle will call back anyone who gets off the approved skating area.
And what if there’s the threat of real emergency? The whistle blows three loud
blasts, the skaters go down on the ice and roll or scoot toward the shore. Why
roll? Why scoot?
When the skater is bearing all of his weight on the ice under those two tiny
blades, the ice is more likely to give way. When that same body weight is
distributed over a wide area of ice, it’s more likely to support the weight.
Scooting, with the back down on the ice, the skater can move faster than by
rolling. The skater can dig the heels of his skates into the ice and can fly
Can’t you visualize making a game out of self-rescue? The whistle-blower can
explain and demonstrate rolling and scooting; the skaters will likely want to
have the whistle blown unexpectedly for practicing this. Three deliberate
blasts of the whistle means that the danger is real.
It’s also fun to practice coiling a long rope, as lifeguards do, slinging the
loose end out to a skater who pretends to be in the icy water. It’s fun to
pull and to be pulled to safety.
If there’s an accident -- or before going out on the ice -- take the spare
wheel out of the car and place it on the dock or shore. This heavy thing --
air in a tire that’s on a wheel -- will float and is effective in both
swimming and ice accident rescues. I’ll tell how to do that -- on another