Ice Divers of St. Croix Scuba is a small, but dedicated group of divers who simply don’t see a need to pack away their dive gear through the winter season. We are all dedicated to local diving so our gear is well suited to colder water; whether the thermocline happens to be at 30’ or just under the surface doesn’t really matter. We want to train others who have the appropriate gear to enjoy the winter dive season and then continue to provide opportunities to put that training to use throughout the winter months. As much as any of us like to dive in warm water locations where tropical corals and fish abound most of us find diving here to be rewarding on a different level. If you’re one of those who also enjoys diving our local lakes and rivers and has the proper equipment suited for the temperatures encountered below the thermoclines perhaps you’ll consider joining us. Even if you have no interest in exploring a lake from beneath the ice sheet we still invite you to come join us on the surface as there is ample opportunity to help out, or just hang out topside. If there’s absolutely no other reason, we usually have fresh cookies!
Our events are primarily organized and coordinated through our Facebook Group, Ice Divers of St. Croix Scuba. We'd love for you to head over and check out what we've been up to!
Why, Where, Who, and How?
Our goal is to actively promote the 4th season of diving for interested participants by both regularly offering training and certification opportunities and create organized opportunities to put the certification to use on a regular basis. Our dive outings are sometimes set up with a purpose in mind (further training exercises, dive site maintenance, hopefully some fun and games) and sometimes just to get out and jump in a hole. Regardless the reason we meet, our primary goal is to provide a quality, safe wintertime dive activity among like-minded individuals and with a frequency that allows good opportunities for participation for everyone’s busy schedules. What we want to avoid is offering one or two training sessions to earn a certification and not back it up without any way to go out and actually use it.
We tend to frequent Perch Lake in the rural Hudson area mostly because there is a public access available, there are suitable diving conditions close enough to shore that we don’t need to be limited to drive-on access, and it is relatively local to most of us. We are open to other locations in the area but for the most part we avoid locations where we are obliged to take cars and trucks onto the ice as this just isn’t always feasible. The activity itself is somewhat more gear intensive and making more than a trip or two out over several hundred yards just isn’t very practical. Wazee Lake in Black River Falls is also well suited to our needs.
We welcome non-divers as well as there are always hands needed out of the water. Anyone choosing to participate, either as diver or in a support role will be given a thorough briefing on our procedures for line tending, line management, and other gear care and handling. We also want to ensure that anyone joining us is prepared to follow some basic safety procedures in order to avoid common slip and fall hazards or even exposure risks. With the exception of specialized tethering and ice preparation tools we ask that participants and guests dress appropriately and have their own, personal gear safety and/or dive gear.
Due to the increased liability associated with conducting dives in an overhead environment we require that all diving participants either to hold the Ice Diver Certification or be in active training as a registered student for it. To sign up for the course a PADI AOW certification or equivalent is required. There is no online component and training consists of a 1 ½ hr class session and 3 open water dives (generally over 2 days) and includes active participation in site prep, and top side support participation. Cost of this cert. is $300 with a refund policy for anyone opting out after the first dive. Anyone who has not either been diving with us or received training for the past year will require a fresh Liability Release Waiver to be filed with the store for the season.
All of our dives are conducted with a tether that is secured to dual ice screws at the surface. This is to provide a constant source of contact and signal exchange between the diver and a tender at the surface using pre-arranged rope pull patterns. It also provides a means of retrieval should a diver signal for a rapid recall. Given the importance of this we do not secure the tether to any dive equipment having quick release buckles and require divers so equipped to wear a simple harness under their BCD to provide a more positive connection. Several harnesses are part of our standard rope gear and are not expected to be provided by individuals.
Is it dangerous?
Anytime a diver enters an overhead environment (and we are remaining within the context of recreational limits) they incur an increased element of risk; whether going through a long swim-through, recreationally penetrating a wreck, or exploring under an ice sheet. In all such cases limits are applied with respect to horizontal as well as vertical distances. As PADI certified Ice Divers we all agree that use of a tether that is tended at the surface by someone who is trained to signal via the tether is an essential safe practice that we must not violate. The depth at our site choices and tether length limits are designed to keep us within standard, recreational limits where an overhead environment exists. We are also working around a rather large hole cut in the ice that has had water splashed all around so it is potentially very slippery. We ask that everyone consider wearing ice cleats of some sort and especially around the hole. A PFD is also recommended for anyone not dressed for diving.
It sounds really cold!
You might be surprised. The water temperature is usually 45-47 deg. Sure, that sounds cold, but it’s often times colder below the ~60’ level in Wazee or Ore be Gone, and Lake Superior, even during the summer months, is often in the low 40’s. While the water at the ice interface has to be cold enough to freeze, the ice and snow pack actually help to insulate the water just beneath. If you’re diving the lakes in this area during any of the other seasons you’re probably going to experience colder temperatures during the other seasons than during the winter months.
But what about being outside in my dive gear?
We’re not out there to prove how tough we are. We bring portable shelter and propane heaters to help keep gear (and ourselves!) from freezing between dives and during setup. We don’t want anybody to get cold and the heated shelters are quite comfortable. Plus we bring a large container of very hot water to help with the occasional piece of frozen gear (regulator, low pressure inflator valve) that also works nice to warm up hands and even toes when needed.
Don’t I need specialized gear?
Not if you’re already an active local diver since any excursions below the thermocline are in cold water. To do these dives you’re already using suitable gear such as an environmentally sealed regulator and, quite likely, a drysuit, or at the very least a 7mm wetsuit with hood and gloves. The rest of the gear doesn’t change, and, since you’re active in the local dive scene you already are familiar with it. As far as site prep, shelter, tether gear, we provide that. And cookies. We always seem to have fresh cookies!
It must be dark under the ice. Won’t I need a dive light?
Even with snow cover the light transmission through the ice is surprisingly good. Further, because the water clarity tends to improve due to lack of runoff or algae the visibility tends to be better in the winter. At the site depths that we choose extra lights really aren’t any more necessary than they would be at any other time.
What if I have to go to the bathroom?
Sorry, you’ll have to figure this one out.
Why would I ever want to do this??
Perhaps one of the best questions of all. There are several reasons.
1. You have all of that unused dive gear just hanging there.
2. It’s something to do during a season when other outdoor activities are somewhat limited.
3. Better visibility.
4. No boat traffic to contend with.
5. Possible access to some different spots that would normally require a boat.
6. Camaraderie with your fellow divers and friends.
7. Because we can.