Be Safe Around IceAlthough winters in and around the Calgary area aren’t as harsh as many other places in Canada, we still get our fair share of cold weather. When local ponds start to freeze up and strapping on the skates seems like a great idea, it pays to know how to stay safe, what signs to look for and what to do if you or a companion get into trouble. With safety and prevention as two main concerns, your M.D. of Foothills Fire Department stands at the ready to provide you with whatever assistance you may need.

A few common sense tips for ice safety include contacting local authorities to determine whether going out on the ice is a good idea during current conditions and avoiding going out on pond or lake ice at night. Also, consider the following information regarding ice thickness:

  • A thickness of 15 cm should be safe for walking or skating by yourself.
  • 20 cm of thickness is required before multiple skaters go out for skating games or parties.
  • You’ll need to have ice that’s at least 25 cm thick before being safe going out on it with your snow mobile.


Ice Color Hints

You can sometimes get an idea about the strength of ice by its color. Follow these guidelines:

  • Grey-coloured ice is not safe. The grey colour is indicative of the presence of water.
  • Clear, blue-coloured ice is the strongest.
  • White-coloured, opaque or “snow ice,” which is formed by the falling of wet, freezing snow on the ice surface, has only about half the strength of clear, blue-coloured ice.


Ice Safety Factors

There are many factors that can affect the thickness of ice, including what type of water is being frozen, the location of the water body, the time of year and certain environmental factors such as:

  • The size of the water body and its depth.
  • Water migration, including tides, currents and other movement.
  • Water level fluctuations.
  • The existence of docks, rocks or exposed logs that will serve to absorb heat from the sun’s rays.
  • The existence of any chemicals in the water, including the presence of salt.
  • Shock waves produced by activity occurring on the ice, especially the presence of vehicles.
  • Changing air temperatures.


What To Do If You Fall In

Avoid going out on the ice too early or too late in the season. If you fall in, remain calm and look to the shore. Put your hands and arms on the ice surface, kick your feet and try to propel yourself forward and out. If you’re carrying an ice pick, use it. Concentrate on keeping your body horizontal. If the ice breaks again, re-establish a new hold and try again. Keep trying. Once you get on top of the ice don’t stand. Roll slowly away from the hole then crawl back to your tracks, keeping your weight as evenly distributed as possible.

If you’re with a companion who falls through the ice stay calm, stay back from the hole and call 911. Find something on shore to extend or throw to your companion, such as a rope, branch, ski or jumper cables. Once they’re out, seek medical attention immediately, as after-effects of cold-water immersion, a condition called “after drop,” can be fatal.

Common Myths

  • Hypothermia occurs within minutes of immersion. False.
    A typical adult can be immersed in cold water for up to 1/2 hour before their core gets to a dangerously low temperature. With your head above water, you could survive for up to two hours.
  • Hypothermia causes drowning. False
    Drowning is caused by muscle failure from the blood leaving your extremities to protect your core. You have about 10 minutes before this happens. Use this time to escape or at least get to a position where your head is above water.
  • Cold-water immersion can cause a heart attack. True.
    Any underlying medical condition, especially heart problems, will increase your chances of going into shock from cold-water immersion. Post-incident medical attention is a must for any surviving victim.