Staying safe on the ice

Local fire chiefs urge caution when out on frozen lakes

It’s hard to imagine a more picturesque Canadian activity than skating on a frozen lake or pond, with mountains in the distance and a hockey stick in hand.

But while the recently frozen lakes in the corridor might look inviting, officials are reminding everyone to practice caution when lacing up outside.

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“The fire department doesn’t check or confirm ice thickness, and partly that’s because it really is situationally dependent,” said Whistler fire chief Geoff Playfair. “While you may have various (areas of) thick ice on a lake, you may also have areas that are still open. It’s really up to the individual’s discretion, whether they feel it’s safe.”

Pemberton’s fire chief, Robert Grossman, agreed. One Mile Lake in Pemberton has seen plenty of skaters and hockey players on its rinks in the last couple of weeks.

“People should always be cautious, you never know because depending on snowfall, depending on weather, if there’s a creek flowing into it — all these different things — you should always be cautious and safe on ice, it doesn’t matter what time of year,” he said.

Since neither force monitors ice thickness, both Grossman and Playfair recommend consulting the Red Cross’ tips for on-ice safety before heading out.

The safety organization notes ice colour as often being helpful in indicating the strength of the ice. While clear blue ice is the strongest, white opaque or snow ice — usually formed by wet snow freezing on the ice — is half as strong as blue. Grey ice is the weakest form and should be considered unsafe; it usually gets its colour from the presence of water.

The Red Cross also says ice thickness is the best way to measure safety, recommending it be at least 15 centimetres for individual walkers or skaters, 20cm for group skating or games and 25cm for snowmobiles.

But regardless of thickness or colour, no floating ice on open water is ever 100 per cent safe.

Playfair also recommends looking out for creeks or moving water flowing into frozen lakes, which can also contribute to thin or unstable ice.

“If you hear cracking definitely get off the ice and have someone test it,” added Grossman.

But if you find yourself in a potentially dangerous situation, he recommended you spread yourself out as far as possible, and if you fall in and are able to extract yourself, crawl along the ice until you can make it safely to shore.

While humans are usually able to mitigate these risk factors, Playfair said it’s more often skaters’ furry companions that find themselves in danger from playing on thin ice.

“We’ve been fortunate over the years in terms that we haven’t had many people (that needed to be) rescued from the ice — there’s been a few — but it’s more animals,” he said. “They’re out with people and pets will kind of run around more in areas where the ice is thinner. Dogs falling through the ice is relatively common and that happens a few times each winter.”

Playfair said owners should keep their dogs leashed and close by to avoid any incidents. But if an accident happens and your animal falls through the ice, he cautions pet owners to avoid meeting the same fate.

“First thing is don’t put yourself in there with your pet,” he said, adding that the best way to approach the situation is call 911, and work from a solid place extending objects like a branch or a ladder to help your pet out of the ice.

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