Ice Roads on Lake of the Woods
For many, ice roads on Lake of the Woods are the way to go. Pay a small access fee to the resort or outfitter who allows access on their land on to an ice road they have worked on feverishly for weeks. Like many things in life, the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Creation, grooming and maintenance of ice roads is one of those things that so much more goes into that most realize.
To start out the winter, many resorts had to start staking their trail. This meant getting out on ice that in some cases wasn’t very thick and in other cases, nobody had yet stepped foot on this winter. That can be a scary thought knowing there are many things that can cause ice thicknesses to vary.
Most resorts use a chainsaw with the bar labeled in inches. Upon cutting into the ice, ice road workers can tell when they hit water how thick the ice is by the markings on the bar. This allows for the initial staking of a resort ice trail or road.
Workers often times will end up re-routing a road during early ice conditions when thin ice is found or perhaps cracks appear. Right off the bat, the ice guides know from year to year what areas are typically not good for ice. These might be areas with springs, current, snow on the ice, emergent vegetation, shallow water such as gaps, etc.
In some cases, ice workers will help Mother Nature out a bit with ice formation. In one case, a resort that is back in a bay will use their airboat to blow off snow that tends to accumulate and insulate the ice. In other cases, a hole is drilled off of the trail and water is pumped on top of the ice. As this water is exposed directly to the freezing air, it freezes much quicker allowing areas to gain inches of ice. This water on top of the ice freezes fast compared to the bottom of the ice as the cold temps first have to penetrate the ice to freeze the water below.
Once the ice roads are staked, they often times need to be dragged if there is rough ice from wind blowing sheets of ice on top of each other when the ice was forming. These drags are made of heavy steel that gets dragged back and forth across the ice eventually making it smooth.
In some cases, there are ice upheavals higher than 10′ tall that have to be cut through for the trail. The manpower it takes to chisel and saw through these ice ridges is amazing and takes a team effort, sometimes with numerous resorts working together to gain access to prime fishing grounds.
Plowing the roads are a daily task. On a big lake like Lake of the Woods, not only do you have snow events, the wind is constantly blowing snow across the lake causing drifts and filling in roads. Much equipment is trashed in plowing miles and miles of ice, hitting ice chunks, etc. That combined with labor, gas and maintenance of vehicles make the process of keeping roads clear challenging.
Resort owners and outfitters ask you keep speeds on ice roads down, typically below 20 MPH. Why do you think this is? Besides simply being safer, there is a wave under the ice that is formed when you drive on the ice. When someone drives fast, that wave is much more destructive to the ice and can really mess a road up for everyone. Please do your part and slow down on ice roads.
With ice roads receiving hundreds or in some cases, thousands of vehicles, it is important to Keep It Clean. First and foremost, secure your garbage and clean up after yourself. Whether you take the garbage back home or back to the resort you are staying at, have a plan. If someone else has lost or left behind some garbage, pay it forward and pick it up. You will be rewarded many times over.
Ice roads are a wonderful way to access Lake of the Woods. Like many things in life, there is so much more that goes into them than meets the eye!