Most of the city’s waterways have frozen over but the ice that covers the surface may not be a sturdy as it seems and emergency officials are asking Calgarians to stay off the rivers and reservoir.

The fire department says there is no way to tell how thick the ice is and recreational users are urged to be cautious.

“The thickness of the ice varies extremely and so there could be overhangs, you just put some weight on it, it breaks off and you’re in freezing cold water. It is a huge risk and so we really, really urge all Calgarians to stay off any ice covered bodies of water unless they are specifically designated for recreational use,’ said Carol Henke, Public Information Officer Calgary Fire Department.

On the weekend, a number of people were spotted walking and cross-country skiing on the Glenmore Reservoir and Henke says they could have gotten into some serious trouble if they had fallen through the ice.

“Hypothermia can set in very, very quickly and with moving water you might end up under other pieces of ice and it’s not good news for anybody,” she said. “It’s not a risk that anyone should be willing to take, with themselves or with their family or their friends. There are plenty of other safe areas to engage in that type of winter activity safely.”

Water levels in the reservoir fluctuate and fire officials say air can become trapped between the ice on top and the water below and that can create a dangerous situation.

“The reservoir, the water levels fluctuate so you might have a layer of ice, but then there could be air and then the water, how many feet below? There’s no way of knowing that, so it is dangerous, there is no way of predicting safe levels of ice on the reservoir so really the next best recommendation is to stay off of that ice,” said Henke. 

Henke says the fire department routinely gets calls about people out on the ice and that Calgarians need to educate their families about the risks.

“Children walking on ice and they don’t necessarily understand the dangers so it is so important for parents to give their children, if they’re out walking around in the community, very strict guidelines of where they can walk and where they can’t.  We have wonderful pathways in the City of Calgary, they are safe, stick to those, stay off the ice,” she said.

If you do fall through the ice there are a few things you can do while waiting for help:

  • Stay calm and try to keep your head is out of the water and control your breathing
  • Call for help and keep your hands on the ice shelf
  • Try to pull yourself up on the ice on your stomach and roll towards the shore, where the ice may be thicker
  • If you can't get out of the water in less than 10 minutes, stop kicking and trying to pull yourself out, and anchor yourself to the ice shelf. Continue to call for help.

Henke says anyone who spots someone else out on the ice should call 911 and give as much detail about the location as they can.

“If you do see someone on the ice, please call 911 because they might be in imminent danger. If you see someone who’s in the water, if you have something to throw to them, we don’t want you to go on to the ice to try and rescue them because that puts you at risk as well, but call 911 immediately, with as much as you can, an exact location of where you saw them.”

The city has a list of safe outdoor rinks on its website, for more information click HERE.