Ice Riding: The Good, the Bad and the Wet

By Stephen King

I write and rewrite this story every couple of years because riding the ice is one of my favorite types of snowmobile riding — but it is also the most dangerous. I learned when I was a young kid, but I also learned the price the ice can extract from those who love it.

I grew up in Naubinway, an Indian fishing village, back in the 1960s when snowmobiles were just coming into their own. My relatives, the Indian commercial fishermen, took to them just as our Western relatives took to horses.

I got my first sled at age 9 as a Christmas present, but Dad also used it on the lake to tend nets with my cousins. I would ride in a field behind the house until my cousin came over to ride with me — all the way from the other end of town. Being a kid, I had to follow him home, but riding snowmobiles on roads was illegal then.

Unfortunately, the local CO lived just across the street. When he heard my sled coming by, he stopped over for a visit. Dad and mom were not impressed by their one and only son entering a life of crime before age 12.

Dad banned me from shore. For the rest of the winter, I had to ride on the ice. My cousin was not allowed on the ice. That age-old strategy of divide and conquer worked.
It also helped educate me. My limits at the time were basically Naubinway Bay, but not around the marina where they had bubblers on the piers and open water. Dad was pretty phobic about me getting anywhere near those things. But a mile out at the island? Good, but not beyond the island because the ice could get iffy. Cracks, shoves and a whole lot of other stuff.

In my later teens, I just loved following the shoreline. Mile after mile, not another sled or a person in sight. I loved it.

The point is that this can be extremely dangerous. When I was about 9, I learned how dangerous.

From my dining room window, I had a front row seat as a search party looked for my favorite uncle, Melvin Frazier, who taught me how to ride and a lot about the ice. He was missing. A huge crack had opened in the Bay right where his tracks ended. After a short search, divers found his remains. He died right near a spot where I often played.

Each time I write this story, it brings a tear to my eye, but I hope my story can save a life. At safety classes I attend, they talk about ice never being really safe. I know that for a fact. So does Uncle Melvin.

But, done safely, ice riding is one of the most enjoyable aspects of snowmobiling. If you’re looking for groomed trails and orange trail markers signaling everything is all safe, this is not for you. But if you’re a bit more adventurous, then give this a try. But use a lot of caution. Find a guide if you can. Watch for open water and wet spots on the ice — and anything else that does not look “quite right.” And bring a camera. Some of the shoreline of Lake Michigan in winter is totally awesome.

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