Those looking to get out on the area’s ponds and lakes should use caution, as the conditions are spotty from one body of water to the next and even from one area of a lake to another.

The Maine Warden Service is urging people to check the thickness of ice before venturing too far out on any of Maine’s waterways.

With the weekend’s storm that produced more than a foot of snow in most areas, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is also reminding snowmobilers to be safe while out on the 13,000 miles of trails that cover the state.

Some of the smaller ponds are safe for cross-country skiing and fishing, but not for snowmobiles, warned Ken Bailey, Megunticook Lake warden. A majority of the local bodies of water are not safe yet, he said.

People going out on the ice should check the thickness with a drill or ice chisel and should not go out alone, he said.

According to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, people venturing onto ice should look for bluish ice that is at least 4 to 6 inches thick, in order to support people and their gear. Even if the weather has been below freezing for several days, one shouldn’t guess about ice thickness.

Megunticook Lake, which borders Lincolnville, Hope and Camden, had open water in some places prior to the last cold snap, but the weekend snowfall created an additional problem, Bailey said.

The snow acts as an insulator, so even if it’s cold the ice doesn’t build up as quickly as one might think, he said. In addition, the weight of the snow pushes down on the ice and creates slush holes.

Another issue, Bailey said, is that the rain the area was hit with last week caused water levels in local lakes and ponds to rise, which created open spaces along the shoreline.

According to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, ice that is 2 inches thick can hold one person on foot, 3 inches will hold a group of people walking single file and 7.5 inches will hold a passenger car, or approximately 2 tons.

This week the Maine Warden Service continued its search for an 18-year-old snowmobiler from China, who has been missing since Jan. 1. The teen was last seen on his black Yamaha snowmobile between 8 and 9 p.m. Dec. 31 after leaving a shop where he was having his snowmobile worked on.

It was unclear whether Richard “Shaw”Jackson took snowmobile trails or attempted to cross China Lake, parts of which were clear of ice.

Also on Dec. 31, a York County man was killed after his snowmobile collided with a pickup truck while the man was riding his snowmobile in the road.

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife suggests riders be aware of the conditions, especially when ice conditions are questionable in the early part of the season, and stay off roads and on trails.

Officials also suggest riders drive at a reasonable speed and stay to the right of the trails. They also encourage the use of hand signals to keep sledders informed of the intended action of another, according to information provided by the department.

And sledders should always ride sober. A high percentage of snowmobile fatalities and injuries are attributable to the use of alcohol.

During the 2008-2009 season, there were more than 99,000 registered snowmobiles in the state. While the majority of riders were safe on the trails, there were 218 accidents, 97 injuries and nine fatalities. There were also 30 drivers cited for operating under the influence.