GET OUT: Ice Me Down

By on December 15, 2015

When the best part of an outdoor adventure is the (safe) art of spectating.

It is that time of year again, for ice adventures that may come with cold, slippery consequences. (Photo: elizabeth koutrelakos)

It is that time of year again, for ice adventures that may come with cold, slippery consequences. (Photo: elizabeth koutrelakos)

Jackson Hole, WY – Tis the season to enjoy long days in the cold outdoors. The omnipresent mountains seem to provide somewhat chippy conditions, so, it’s natural to look for different methods of travel and recreation. We are currently approaching a small space in time found after the cold of winter hits but before too much snow has fallen. When everything aligns, this little window provides ideal conditions for ice skating.

The outdoor rinks around town are open as long as the cold persists, and now is the perfect time to begin watching the local bodies of water that are a mere jaunt from home. The idea behind ice skating is quite congruent with many other sports in Jackson, entailing a self-propelled way of moving fast in nature.

Skating on random lakes, while fun, can be dangerous. I’m not a good swimmer and consequences from falling through the ice in the dead of winter can be pretty bleak. Thus, prior to this attempt, I did a little research on how lakes freeze. After looking into this miracle of ice, my brain stretched from the scientific complexities of water, I was able to make out some facts in normal human terms.  It is important to think about density. Lakes lose heat when the surface temperature of the water cools from contact with cold air. This colder water then sinks and mixes with warm water throughout the lake. Think of this as a natural blender to even out the temperature of the water. When the entire lake temperature reaches around 40 degrees, the colder water at the surface becomes less dense as it reaches its freezing point and turns to ice. In my research, I learned that large or deep lakes do not freeze entirely, but only the surface freezes. Once the surface ice is thick enough, there is the necessary tension to hold snow, and even humans, atop the cold water below. Learning this eased my childhood fears of lonely fish, dying in the winter.

Depending on late fall and early winter temperatures, lakes can easily freeze to more than a foot in depth. During warmer seasons, however, the lakes may have as little as three to five inches of ice covering their surfaces before the snow covers them and the ice skating window closes. With the risks in mind, I attempted ice skating on a lake with some trepidation.

The activity itself was quite amusing for the first few minutes, but I chose to spend most of my time by the lakeside sipping hot chocolate for a couple different reasons. The first had to do with my ability as an ice skater. It takes a lot more nimbleness than I thought, and I slipped around quite often. Perhaps next time I shall choose to obtain skates that aren’t two sizes too big. In most outdoor ventures, I use my mom’s old shoes and make due in the oversized travel pieces. With ice skating, I learned that having ankle support is essential in the fine line of success between balance and support. Additionally, whipping around quickly on the ice in frigid conditions is not for the ill-prepared. Whatever temperature it was in town, the lake was much colder and quite damp, reminding me of an East Coast winter. Lastly, I quit because the idea of tromping around on the ice freaked me out. The sound that the fresh ice makes as it cracks and shoots is like something from a science fiction movie, pinging and ponging lasers every which way. I’ve gone on lakes in the winter with skis on and, although the risk is the same, I felt more secure with my bodyweight spread out below me.

My friends did not share these same fears. They played full-fledged hockey on the lake without a care in the world. Watching people ice skate was entertainment in and of itself. No longer did I have to worry about the tailbone bruises or feebly attempting to remain upright while moving. The security of knowing my body would remain in one piece that day was more than I could hope for. Also, it is always nice to be outside. My favorite part about ice skating was knowing that there was always a foreseeable end to the adventure. You see, this time of year it gets dark so early that the latest I would be waiting would be four or five o’clock.

Perhaps in the future I’ll just stick with what I know and observe that which I am unfamiliar with. PJH

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