Excellent year for 'wild ice' skating on northern Minnesota lakes

Early cold and lack of snow producing near-perfect skating ice.

Glassy smooth 'wild ice' on Seagull Lake
Glassy smooth "wild ice" on Seagull Lake.
Kjersti Vick, Visit Cook County

This post comes with a warning label upfront. Ice is not safe on many Minnesota lakes. You need at least 4 inches of clear black ice to venture out with some level of safety. This ice is always present in areas with moving water.

Here are some ice safety tips from the Minnesota DNR. Be careful out there.

Minnesota DNR
Huttner, Paul

Smooth lake ice

Minnesota is seeing some of the best skating ice in years on many Minnesota lakes. I’m getting reports of pristine smooth black ice in the Boundary Waters and other lakes across northern Minnesota.

Skating on Seagull Lake
Skating on Seagull Lake
Kjersti Vick, Visit Cook County

Kjersti Vick with Visit Cook County took some photos of exceptional black ice on lakes in northeast Minnesota.

Wild ice on Clearwater Lake in the BWCA
Wild ice on Clearwater Lake in the BWCA
Kjersti Vick, Visit Cook County

It should be noted that she measured 4 inches of ice in this location. Many lakes in southern Minnesota may not have 4 inches of ice yet.

4" of ice on Seagull Lake
4 inches of ice on Seagull Lake.
Kjersti Vick, Visit Cook County

Kjersti elaborates on the excellent ice along the Gunflint Trail.

Seagull Lake at the end of the Gunflint Trail has about 4 inches of pristine clear ice and the locals have been having a blast exploring!

It is rare that we have such gorgeous ice and I'm curious if you have any intel on what makes for such perfect conditions this year? I have friends in other parts of Minnesota who are experiencing similar ice conditions. While we always have ice on the lakes, this perfect smooth black ice hasn't been this good for as long as I can remember.

Ideal smooth lake-ice weather

October cold combined with light winds and a lack of snow cover has created near-perfect glassy black ice this season.

Skating on Seagull Lake in the BWCA
Skating on Seagull Lake.
Kjersti Vick, Visit Cook County

Temperatures dipped into the single digits above zero on several nights across northern Minnesota in late October and November. The cold, combined with light winds produced a glassy freeze on many lakes.

The subsequent lack of snowfall after freeze-up has kept the ice pristine.

Wild ice like this occurs every few years in Minnesota. But this may be one of the best years in a long time depending on your location.

I found these wild ice safety tips from Visit Cook County valuable.

Wild Ice
There is nothing more spectacular than wild ice. But it is exactly that, “wild.” It can be glorious, wicked, dangerous and magical all at the same time. Safety is not guaranteed. Before following any tracks out on to the ice, know the risks and have a safety plan. Ice thickness changes on a lake, one area may have 4” and the next bay only 1”. Never assume that it’s safe, ice is never 100% safe.

Here are a few tips to consider before any on ice adventure.
1. Measure the depth. The MN DNR recommends only venturing out on ice that is 4” or more thick. Again, don’t just trust that others have been ok so you don’t need to check. Confirm for yourself.
2. Be prepared with safety gear. Ice picks, throw rope and a change of clothes in a dry bag are strongly recommended.
3. Don’t skate alone. Have a partner and let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return.
4. Be aware of your surroundings. Listen to the ice, if it starts crackling underfoot, head to shore immediately. Stay close to shore and avoid areas where it meets moving water.
5. Be ready to rescue yourself. Our community is blessed is with dedicated and selfless volunteer first responders who will risk everything to save someone in danger. However, that is only if you can call for help. Cell service is spotty in the wilderness and you could be miles away from the nearest phone. Avoid unnecessary risks so you don’t put a volunteer in danger.

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