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Snow machine rescued from Mendenhall Lake after close call on thin ice
Published: 02/07/2013 17:50:00
The Juneau Nordic Ski Club regularly uses snow machines to set cross country ski trails on Mendenhall Lake during the winter.

Last Wednesday, the weather was foggy as Scott Fischer headed out onto the lake to scout a commonly used route on the ice in near whiteout conditions.

Suddenly Fischer ran into trouble: "I at some point felt the snow machine start to drift a little bit. And that's usually a sign that there's some over flow so I was just starting to pull away from where I thought it might be wet underneath when the top surface of ice, which turned out to be about an inch thick, just broke. And the snow machine just sunk immediately. And when it came up the seat I jumped off and started to splash my way toward unbroken ice. And eventually, I tried to put my weight on the ice a few times and it broke, it was too thin. And finally I got onto it and it broke once more, and then I was able to start sliding up onto the ice, and eventually crawled away. I looked back though, expecting the snow machine to be gone, and it had stopped sinking at about 2 feet in depth. And, as it turns out, the ice was solid under there, although I didn't know that at the time."

After an attempt to retrieve the snow machine failed on Wednesday; crews returned to the lake Thursday with a rubber raft to prepare for a helicopter to lift the machine from the ice.

As low clouds prevented flying, the team was able to clear about 100 feet of thin ice and hand winch the machine back up onto the surface of the snow. They then used a motorized winch and a 2nd snow machine to tow the disabled machine to stronger ice and eventually back to the parking lot and a waiting trailer. After a few days of drying and some work by the ski club's mechanics, the machine is now back in service setting more trails around town.

By: Mikko Wilson -