OSCEOLA\/MECOSTA COUNTY \u2014 With temperatures dropping once again, those who enjoy the outdoors in winter may be eager to go out and test the ice.\u00a0Before gearing up\u00a0with fishing poles or skates,\u00a0Big Rapids Department of Public Safety (DPS) and Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conservation officers offer a few tips to staying safe on the ice. \u201cA big tip is to tell people where you are going and when you expect to be back,\u201d said DPS Deputy Director Steve Schroeder. Schroeder said people should\u00a0exercise caution when moving across a frozen body of water as the ice may be more thin in some areas than others. When moving across the ice, winter enthusiasts should disperse their weight as much as possible to test thickness and help prevent falling through. When looking for a good spot to fish or skate,\u00a0Schroeder said rivers may not be the best place to look. \u201cAny kind of river ice should not be thought of as safe,\u201d\u00a0he\u00a0said. For more\u00a0safety advice,\u00a0Schroeder and other DPS officers refer people to the DNR\u2019s website. According to Lt. Tom Wanless, DNR recreational safety programs supervisor, winter outdoorsmen\u00a0cannot always determine the strength of ice simply by its look, its thickness, the temperature or whether the ice is covered with snow. \u201cNew ice generally is stronger than old ice,\u201d Wanless said in a press release. \u201cWhile a couple of inches of new, clear ice may be strong enough to support a person, a foot of old ice riddled with air bubbles may not. Clear ice that has a bluish tint is the strongest. Ice formed by melted and refrozen snow appears milky, and often is porous and weak.\u201d Wanless said ice covered by snow should always be presumed unsafe\u00a0as snow acts like an insulating blanket and slows the freezing process, making the ice thinner and weaker. Wanless also warned if there is slush on the ice, stay off. \u201cSlush ice is only about half as strong as clear ice and indicates the ice is no longer freezing from the bottom,\u201d\u00a0Wanless said. \u201cBe especially cautious in areas where air temperatures have fluctuated. A warm spell may take several days to weaken the ice. But when temperatures vary widely, causing ice to thaw during the day and refreeze at night, the result is a weak, spongy or honeycombed ice that is unsafe.\u201d The DNR does not recommend the standard \u201cinch-thickness\u201d guide used by many outdoor enthusiasts to determine ice safety, Wanless said, noting the guide suggests a minimum of 4 inches of clear ice is needed to support an average person\u2019s weight, but since ice seldom forms at a uniform rate it is important to check the thickness with a spud and ruler every few steps. Deep inland lakes take longer to freeze than shallow lakes, Wanless said. Ice cover on lakes with strong currents or chain-of-lakes systems also is more unpredictable.\u00a0Ice near shore tends to be much weaker because of shifting, expansion and heat from sunlight reflecting off the bottom. \u201cIf there\u2019s ice on the lake but water around the shoreline, proceed with caution,\u201d he said. \u201cAvoid areas with protruding logs, brush, plants and docks as they can absorb heat from the sun and weaken the surrounding ice.\u201d Wanless said that anyone walking onto a frozen lake or river should wear a life jacket, wear bright colors, carry a cellphone and bring a set of ice picks or ice claws. He advised against taking a car, truck or snowmobile on the ice. If a person does break through the ice, Wanless offered the following tips: \u2022 Try to remain calm; \u2022 Don\u2019t remove your winter clothing. Heavy clothes won\u2019t drag you down, but can trap air to provide warmth and flotation. This is especially true with a snowmobile suit; \u2022 Turn toward the direction you came from, as that ice is probably the strongest; \u2022\u00a0If you have\u00a0ice picks or ice claws, dig their points into the ice while vigorously kicking your feet, and\u00a0pull yourself onto the surface by sliding forward on the ice; \u2022 Once out of the water, roll away from the area of weak ice. Rolling on the ice will distribute your weight to help avoid breaking through again; \u2022 Get to shelter, warm yourself, change into dry clothing and consume nonalcoholic, noncaffeinated drinks; and \u2022 Call 911 and seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, have uncontrollable shivering or notice any other ill effects. For more information about staying safe while on the water or in the woods, visit the DNR website michigan.gov\/recreationalsafety.