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Ice diving is a diving experience unlike any other, distinct in its otherworldliness and the way it takes your breath away. Although it is slightly more technical and exciting than regular reef diving, it’s in no way as extreme as it is often believed to be. This oasis of calm and serenity allows for experienced divers to recharge in a peaceful environment, undisturbed for many months.
Scuba diving is often done in pairs, in buddies to be precise. However for ice diving, scuba diving truly becomes a team sport, in both preparation and execution. Everyone arrives together, and everyone leaves together once everything is packed and put away. The minimum number of people required to make the dive work is 6. But, to be as comfortable as possible, 10 people are needed.
Ice diving requires a lot of preparation and a significant amount organisation in order to assure a successful and safe experience for all divers.
The preparation stage includes a visit to the dive site, measuring the ice thickness and a checking of the snow depth. It is also very important to prepare all the equipment necessary and to keep an eye on the weather and diving conditions to ensure the safety and fluidity of the dive. Quality checks on harnesses, ropes and attachment points is crucial beforehand. Specific equipment for ice diving, such as snow shovels and ice-cutters are essential for this type of diving as well.
On the day of, as much snow as possible needs to be removed from the site to allow light to shine through the ice and increase underwater visibility. If there is too much residual snow, there will be no light underwater! The location of the dive holes will be determined according to the conditions, and then you can start cutting the ice! The ice is cut in big cubes to be removed one by one. Ropes and harnesses are attached to hooks planted in the ice and cubes around the hole, to secure the divers in the water.
Right after exiting the water, all equipment needs to be taken off and properly sealed to limit damage done by the frost. The dive hole also needs to be barred, to prevent divers, people passing by and animals from accidently falling in.
Technical equipment adapted for ice
Modern equipment is very thorough and well adapted to technical ice diving. It is particularly important to have a regulator and octopus adapted to cold water such as the AquaLung Legend or even better, the Apeks MTX-R, which is the best cold-water regulator on the market today. When it comes to BCDs, it is important to make sure that the inside is dry to prevent frost and damage to the seals.
Special safety equipment is necessary, such as harnesses. A complete harness wraps around the diver’s legs and shoulders, to provide maximum strength and the carabiner prevent any chance of losing the rope. A knife with a sharp tip is also useful to stabilize yourself against the ice.
Ice is composed of both blue and white ice. The former is frozen lake water, and is characteristically hard and can support a significant amount of weight. The latter, white ice, is a mix of ice and snow which makes it much more brittle and fragile. For proper ice diving, at least 12 cm of blue ice is required.
Not as cold as it seems!
Under-ice water is around 4°C, and the closer to the ice you go, the more the temperature drops, nearing 0°C. The surface air temperature is much colder than the actual water temperature. When entering the water, a temperature change can be felt, but going from colder to less cold, so it’s actually quite enjoyable! With proper equipment, such as a drysuit, undergarments and warm clothes, the cold cannot even reach you. Like every winter sport, you just need a little cold protection for an amazing and breathtaking experience!
And so so bright!
During preparations, there is a lot of light. The sun shines bright over the frozen lake, shining back reflectively on the snow and ice. Eventually, our eyes adapt to this super-light. Going underwater through the triangular hole, it seems like stepping into a void, as pitch-black spreads before your eyes. The strong light and dark contrast only lasts a few seconds as your eyes slowly adjust to the new luminosity of the environment. You are then left with beautifully clear water as far as the eye can see.
Ice diving, as mentioned above, is a team sport. Accompanying the passionate divers is a security team, acting as an essential link between the underwater and above water worlds.
Ice diving is a relaxing and peaceful activity. It is a team sport which requires extensive organization and group responsibility. The dive in itself does not require a lot of specialized equipment, which makes it relatively accessible to all divers. An immensely calm and quiet moment...the true feeling of the experience can simply not be described with words. The ice allows for us to practice our favorite activity even in the heart of winter, with the pleasure of discovery and new experiences. An ice diver speciality certification is required to enjoy the experience in all safety. Thankfully, Total Diving offers this certification every year as the ice thickens, and invites all divers to take part in this wonderful adventure.
It truly is an incredible experience, accessible to everyone.
WHO IS TOTAL DIVING
Since 1975, Total Diving has continued to provide exceptional services to the scuba diving community. We are the Canadian leaders in diving, and have been Aqua Lung and Apeks’ #1 retailer for the last four years. Our online store provides you with everything you need, without having to come by our signature flagship location in Montreal. As a diving school, we teach our students with great care, and as a world-renowned PADI Career Development Centre, we develop outstanding instructors and divemasters. Stay up to date with diving news, products, and the Total Diving community by reading our blogs. We aren’t just a store, we’re a family that only gets bigger with each new diver.