A recent uptick in snowmobiles plunging through the ice has prompted a warning from first responders: no ice is safe ice.
On Monday, Greater Sudbury Police tweeted a warning to users saying "This past week we’ve had several snowmobiles and side-by-sides fall through ice on local lakes and rivers. Ice conditions are NOT sufficient for snowmobiles at this time. Please stay off. We remind riders that retrievals of sunken machines are at the owner’s expense"
It's a warning experts are hoping users will take to heart, including Sudbury Trail Plan Association's Joel Brosseau.
"Today is 17 years to the day that I lost a close personal friend that left behind two wonderful children on his snowmobile when his snowmobile went through the ice on Fairbank Lake, so it is a thing that affects our community," said Brosseau, the association president.
Brosseau said they're telling members to keep to the staked trails because these past few weeks have been anything but your typical winter.
"It's still very early in the season and unfortunately we see a lot of this at the beginning of every season, but this has been a strange year for a lot of reasons but weather-wise, as well," he said.
Weather has changed
"You can look out there and you may have been on this lake several times in years previous and everything has been fine, but with the way the weather has changed in the last week or so, it's not necessarily going to be safe," said Greater Sudbury Fire Service's Jimmy Kolar.
Kolar, who is also the service's public safety officer, said the city has been seeing almost spring-like conditions, making the ice anything but reliable.
"Water in some lakes is deeper than others, so it takes longer to freeze, you get a snow covering on top, it changes the formation of the ice, the structure and its density," he said. "I think I would wait until we get cold temperatures. I wouldn't go out there now."
"Although the Sudbury Fire Department does have an All Hazards Response to dealing with these types of technical rescues, the best way to mitigate them is to avoid them in the first place," said Chris Zawierzeniec, of the Greater Sudbury Fire Service who trains people on how to do water rescues.
Zawierzeniec told CTV News those water rescues are dynamic situations where first responders could be dealing with a multitude of situations.
"Sometimes the water is moving'
"Sometimes the water is moving," he said. "We have other obstacles, such as the vehicle itself or the snow machine that is involved, and quite typically, we have a medical emergency to deal with all at the same time."
Const. Rob Lewis with the Ontario Provincial Police said it's best to avoid the situation, and reminds owners they are responsible for the costs if their machine goes through the ice.
"We recommend that wearing a floating suit does help your chances of surviving if you ever do fall into the ice, as it allows you to float and makes it easier for you to get back onto solid ice pads again," said Lewis.
"Our job is to ensure there's safety on the trails and everyone follows the rules … We're out there to also educate people about safe practices on the trails and on the water."
Lafond Towing in Sturgeon Falls is one of a handful of companies that has the specialized equipment needed to retrieve snowmobiles and vehicles from the bottom of a lake or river.
They're removing them with a contraption owner Pierre Lafond lovingly calls Big Red, a crane-like apparatus that's positioned on pontoons.
Lafond said recovery could run owners anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000.
"All depending, like we said, on the amount of work we have to put in recovering that machine or vehicle, because we have to do it in a safe manner so it's not going to put the lives of my workers at jeopardy," he said.
His advice to people right now is to use caution. Lafond said he would rather people not need his service than for him to have to do it in the event of a fatality.