What is ice-out?
Ice-out refers to the time in spring when ice disappears from a pond. We celebrate it as a sign of warm days ahead or lament it as the end of skating, hockey, and ice fishing. Our ancestors viewed it far more seriously as it meant altering ways of obtaining water, fish, and transportation.
Ice-out also meant the end of ice harvesting, the first big cash crop of the year. The length of the harvesting season determined both the availability of ice for summer comfort and the income from that harvest, some of which was, at times, even shipped abroad. Until the middle of the 20th century when mechanical methods of ice making were adopted, entrepreneurs kept a close eye on pond ice, waiting for it to reach a thickness of one foot before cutting it. Hancock Shaker Village still has a historic 1844 ice house used for its Richmond Pond harvesting activities.
Many bodies of water were used for winter activities, but detailed ice-out records, beginning in 1925, exist only for Pontoosuc Lake. On average, the lake becomes ice-free by April 10. In the mildest year, 1995, ice disappeared on March 26. In 1940, the coldest year on record, ice-out did not occur until May 1.
Many factors influence ice-out for each pond, including depth, surface area, and source of water. Pontoosuc Lake has a large surface, at 480 acres, but its average depth is only 14 feet. Benedict Pond, with a surface of 35 acres, has a maximum depth of only eight feet. By contrast, the 398-acre, 52-foot-deep Stockbridge Bowl will hold its ice longer. No two ponds have exactly same ice-out moment.