Watershed report: Be safe on the ice!

Alyssa Belanger
Lesser Slave Watershed Council

A few years ago, my family from England came to visit in the dead of winter. They wanted a snowy Christmas, to pick their own tree from the woods, and to spend time on a frozen lake. My parents, siblings and I were excited to show them the magic of winter here in northern Alberta, and were keen to show them that cold weather didn’t stop us from having fun!
The youngest of my cousins was incredibly afraid of two things: snow blindness and thin ice, but taking him out onto the frozen lake was one of the best parts of their visit! They put on their gloves before their coats, and needed help to do up zippers, then complained about being too warm in the truck (We did tell them not to put coats on until we got there; they just didn’t listen.)

We slid forward, fell backwards and laughed at the poor English kids that looked like Bambi on ice. I see kids doing the same thing on lakes, ponds and river all over our region, every year.

Whether you’re thinking about going out on skates for fun, to play a game of shinny hockey, or out ice fishing, please be careful! Here are a few ice safety tips to keep in mind while you’re out.

Check the colour of ice; colour is a great way for you to tell the strength of the ice!

· 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. It indicates the presence of water.

Ice needs to be thicker if there are many people skating or if you’re using any kind of OHV, ATV, or other vehicle on the ice.

· 15 cm for walking or skating alone
· 20 cm for skating parties or games
· 25 cm for vehicles, OHVs & snowmobiles
· Obey posted signs about ice surfaces for activities
· Avoid any open holes or cracks

Pack out what you pack in
· Leave no human waste, garbage, or recyclables out there. Anything left behind in the spring will go in to our waterways and can negatively impact the health of the lake, fish and wildlife.

Avoid going out on ice at night
Go with a buddy, and make sure someone on shore knows when you’ll be home
· Avoid going out on the ice alone to ensure rescue is an option.
· Discuss rescue procedures in advance to ensure all fishers know how to perform a rescue safely.

Carry rescue equipment
· Ice picks, rope, a cell phone (in a waterproof container) and a first aid kit.
If you do find yourself in danger on ice, call for help immediately. While you may be scared, resist the urge to climb out where you fell because the ice is likely weak there. Use the air trapped in your clothes to float, reach forward on broken ice and kick with your legs instead of pushing down. Once you are back on ice, spread out your arms and legs to evenly distribute your weight. Of course, the best safety tip is prevention. Never take unnecessary risks when it comes to ice. It is important to ensure everyone you’re with is aware of these safety tips.

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