Skating on Ponds, Lakes and Rivers
Skating on natural ice in the Rockies can be a wonderful experience, but it also involves some serious risks. Here are some things you should know.
Parks Canada does NOT mark off places for safe skating, or mark potential hazards. If you choose to skate on natural ice, you do so at your own risk.
- If you are not sure if the ice is thick enough, stay off it.
- Never skate alone.
- Don't skate in the dark.
- The Red Cross recommends an ice thickness of at least 6" for safety; the thicker the ice, the better. It's up to YOU to assess the thickness of the ice. The best way to do this is with a drill, and to check in several locations. We do not recommend skating at night or on snow-covered ice because you cannot see how thick the ice is. Water vapour above the ice, or creaking and cracking noises, indicate weak ice.
- The thickness of natural ice varies from place to place. Ice forms over shallow, still water first and is thinner over areas where the water is flowing. One pond may be in good condition while another one nearby is not safe. And ice thickness can vary from place to place on any pond or lake. Be especially cautious around inflow and outflow areas. When the weather is warm, the thickness of natural ice can change from day to day.
YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN, SO BE PREPARED !
- Your chances of rescuing yourself if you fall into deep or flowing water are NOT GOOD. It can be extremely difficult to crawl back out of the water onto fragile ice without proper assistance, and hypothermia will weaken you very quickly. For this reason, skating alone is not recommended. Because of the time it will take for rescue assistance to reach you, proper self-rescue is your best bet.
- IF SOMEONE FALLS IN, that means the ice in that area is dangerous . If you hope to rescue someone who has fallen in, stay away from the thin ice yourself !
Emergency throw bag rescue© Parks Canada / B. White
-The best way to help the person is to extend a long pole or throw them a line. Carry a hockey stick, a piece of rope, or, even better, an emergency throw bag with you (see photo). Throw bags are easy to make with a length of floating rope, a nylon stuff sack, and a piece of closed-cell foam for flotation. Put the foam in the bottom of the stuff sack, tie one end of the rope to the stuff sack, then stuff the sack with the rope, leaving the other end out. Hold onto the free end of the rope and throw the bag to the victim.
- You can carry a cell phone to report emergencies (call 911 immediately), but don't rely on this alone. Cell phones do not work everywhere in the park and emergency response teams from Banff or Lake Louise may not arrive in time. Make sure you know and can report your exact location.
- If you are going to a remote area, tell someone you trust exactly where your group is going and when you plan to return, and any other pertinent information that will assist search and rescue personnel if you do not return as planned.
- Vermilion Lakes: Warm springs keep some parts of these lakes open; do not assume an even thickness. At Third Vermilion Lake, avoid the area east of the dock.
- Two Jack Lake: Stay well away (100m at least) from the dam at the east end of the lake. There is always open water and dangerously thin ice in this area.
- Lake Minnewanka: Because of its size and depth, Lake Minnewanka does not usually freeze over until well into mid-winter. The west end of the lake, near the Minnewanka Road, is the last part of the lake to freeze each winter. In addition, because it is an artificial reservoir, the lake level varies throughout the winter, so the ice can be cracked near the shoreline. Since it is such a large lake and winds are often high, help can be a long way away if you get into trouble out there.
- Bow River: Flowing river means ice thickness varies dramatically from place to place, and day to day.
Safer Skating Options:
Depending on weather conditions, you may find free outdoor rinks:
- at the Banff Recreation Centre, near the Norquay Interchange (mid-December to mid-February )
- behind the Banff Springs Hotel (December to March)
- in front of Chateau Lake Louise (November to April)
Public indoor skating is available at the Banff Recreation Centre from September to March. Call 403.762.1235 for recorded information about times and cost.