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Banff National Park

Skating on natural ice in the Rockies can be a wonderful experience, but it also involves some serious risks. 

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Where to Skate

If you choose to skate on natural ice, you do so at your own risk. Parks Canada does NOT mark off places for safe skating, or mark potential hazards.

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:

  • Banff High School
  • Banff Recreation Centre (indoor skating)
  • Behind the Banff Springs Hotel (December to March)
  • In front of Chateau Lake Louise (November to April)

Rules & Regulations

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.


From: The Canadian Red Cross Ice Safety

Many factors affect ice thickness including: type of water, location, the time of year and other environmental factors such as:

  • Water depth and size of body of water.
  • Currents and other moving water.
  • Chemicals including salt.
  • Fluctuations in water levels.
  • Logs, rocks and docks absorbing heat from the sun.
  • Changing air temperature.  

Ice Colour

  • The colour of ice may be an indication of its strength.
  • Clear blue ice is strongest.
  • White opaque or snow ice is half as strong as blue ice. Opaque ice is formed by wet snow freezing on the ice.
  • Grey ice is unsafe. The grayness indicates the presence of water.

Ice thickness should be:

  • 15 cm for walking or skating alone
  • 20 cm for skating parties or games 

If you get into trouble on ice and you're by yourself:

  • Call for help.
  • Resist the immediate urge to climb back out where you fell in. The ice is weak in this area.
  • Use the air trapped in your clothing to get into a floating position on your stomach.
  • Reach forward onto the broken ice without pushing down. Kick your legs to push your torso on the ice.
  • When you are back on the ice, crawl on your stomach or roll away from the open area with your arms and legs spread out as far as possible to evenly distribute your body weight. Do not stand up! Look for shore and make sure you are going in the right direction.

Rescuing another person from ice can be dangerous. The safest way to perform a rescue is from shore.

  • Call for help. Consider whether you can quickly get help from trained professionals (police, fire fighters or ambulance) or bystanders.
  • Check if you can reach the person using a long pole or branch from shore – if so, lie down and extend the pole to the person.
  • If you go onto ice, wear a PFD and carry a long pole or branch to test the ice in front of you. Bring something to reach or throw to the person (e.g. pole, weighted rope, line or tree branch).
  • When near the break, lie down to distribute your weight and slowly crawl toward the hole.
  • Remaining low, extend or throw your emergency rescue device (pole, rope, line or branch) to the person.
  • Have the person kick while you pull them out.
  • Move the person to a safe position on shore or where you are sure the ice is thick. Signal for help.

Emergency throw bag rescue
Emergency throw bag rescue
© B. White