Stay Safe This Winter

Many people miss out on the splendours of winter because they are unsure of things such as ice conditions and weather changes. Here's what you need to know to thrive this snowy season.

The snow appears as a blanket of beautiful glistening white, the sunsets become more striking, and a whole new world of outdoor activities open up for our enjoyment. A new season of snowshoeing, skiing, skating, snowmobiling—and, of course, ice fishing—comes to life. It's winter in Ontario's Sunset Country.

As with any time of year, there are ways to keep your outings safe during Sunset Country’s winter. There’s no reason to huddle inside waiting for the thaw if you are aware and prepared for the weather. Below we go over some ways to best enjoy your time outside in the winter months while remaining safe.

Ice Safety

Never go out onto the ice unless you are sure it is safe. The most dangerous times to be on the ice are at ice-in/ice-out time (early winter and spring), but ice can be dangerous winter-round if you aren’t cautious. The chart below is a great resource to help determine if the ice is safe to be on or not. Don’t just go by what others say; test the ice yourself before you risk going out walking or on any motorized vehicle. 

Ice fishing is the number one winter activity in Sunset Country. Learn more about ice fishing in the winter.

Remember that the type of ice counts as well: white ice is weaker than black or clear ice. Water close to current sources, such as rivers and inlets, are weaker and should be avoided entirely. Ice covered in snow should be checked for depth before it's driven on. 

Keep in mind that the faster you drive on the ice road, the more waves you make underneath the ice surface. Driving slower is not only safer, but kinder to your fellow anglers who may have an open hole nearby. It is strongly suggested you drive ice roads with your seatbelt off and your window down, even just a little. 

 
 
 
 
It looks daunting, but black ice is the safest, strongest form of ice. 

Frostbite

Whenever you venture outdoors in the winter you should keep your skin at the top of your priorities. Frostbite can creep up on you while you’re having fun. Awareness is the trick to keeping it from becoming a problem for you. Here are some general guidelines to avoid the risk of frostbite. 

Low risk: 0 to -27 °C (32 to 16.6°F)

Some risk: -28 to -39°C (-18.4 to 38.2°F) in 10 to 30 minutes

High risk: -40 to -47°C (-40 to 52.6°F) in 5 to 10 minutes

Very high risk: -48 to -54°C (-54.4 to -65.2°F) in 2 to 5 minutes

As you go lower in temp, you can acquire frostbite in under two minutes. Keep in mind also that wind will shorten all of these estimated times. 

The best thing to do to battle frostbite is cover bare skin, stay dry, and keep moving. We recommend neck warmers and spare hats and gloves in case they get wet.

Clothing

Dressing for the weather you are expecting is something most avid outdoors people are aware of. However, if you are a novice or new to this sort of weather, here are some guidelines you can follow. If you get wet and you are cold, it can greatly impede your enjoyment of your outdoor activity, and even be dangerous.

                   A high winter sun lights up an ice hole near Kenora, Ontario. 

Always dress in layers specific to the activity you are doing. The trick is to stay warm and protected without getting overheated and sweating. When you sweat in the cold, you create a situation where your clothes are wet. This is where proper layering comes in. Be prepared to adjust your clothing to suit your activity of choice, outdoor temperatures, and your comfort. 

In terms of materials, wool is your best option. Cotton should be avoided, as it doesn’t dry quickly and wicks heat away from your body. Wool, however, protects from the wind, holds your body heat in even if wet, and dries faster. Everyone knows to keep their fingers and toes warm, but equally important is your head, especially your ears.

Layering your clothes is key. Learn more about dressing properly for winter.

Food & Water

It is important to keep hydrated and fed while you are playing outdoors, more so in the winter. Making sure you are well-fed can keep your metabolism humming along, keeping you warm in cold weather. Eating properly ensures your energy level and keeps you sharp. Ever notice how you get lethargic and can get "brain fog" when you don’t eat? Playing outdoors in the winter puts an even greater demand on your body, so make sure you eat, and drink plenty of water.

The sun starts to sink over a backcountry lake in northwestern Ontario. Photo: Alyssa Lloyd 

In case of an Emergency

We all hope that we are just going out to have fun in the snow, however, it’s important to be prepared for emergencies should they happen. Having an emergency kit in your vehicle, including a flashlight, food, water, blankets, source of heat, first aid kit, and a means of communication (like a cellphone or even just a whistle) can help in an emergency. 

Angler

Alyssa Lloyd shows off a lake trout/brook trout hybrid, splake. 

Make sure you communicate with someone outside your party about your activity of the day. That person should have a general idea of where you are going and when you can be expected to return.

Have Fun!

Outdoor activities offer fun ways to spend your winter. Be prepared, be careful, and you’ll enjoy your favourite winter activities in beautiful Sunset Country safely. 

All photos by Tracey Chartrand

About Tracey Chartrand

I’m a staff writer for Sunset Country Travel Association and have lived in NW Ontario for six years. I enjoy canoeing, hiking, camping, fishing, and photography so living in this area is like heaven to me. I will endeavor to share with you my joy of living in NW Ontario by sharing some of my experiences and photos with you.  I hope it inspires you to visit us and find out for yourself why they call this Sunset Country.

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