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Parks Canada says staff are ready to help visitors who fall through the ice

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There is a warning to residents and visitors to Banff National Park over the dangers of venturing out on thin ice over the long weekend.

Parks Canada is reminding people that natural or ‘clear ice’ skating comes with risks and that it does not monitor the thickness of ice.

It’s recommended ice thickness should be 15 centimetres for walking or skating alone and 20 centimetres for skating parties or games.

The colour of ice may be an indication of its strength, officials said. Clear blue ice is strongest, while white opaque is half as strong as blue ice. Grey ice is considered unsafe.

Officials say many environmental factors affect the thickness of ice including water, location, the time of year and other factors such as the water depth, currents and chemicals in the water such as salt.

Conditions can change quickly as water flow changes beneath the ice surface.

While some bodies of park in the park may have safe skating areas, they may also have thin ice and open water sections to be aware of.

The team hears about people breaking through ice on lakes every season says Parks Canada visitor safety specialist Lisa Paulson.

"It’s not that common that we respond but it’s not uncommon that we hear of people falling in so, it’s something we’re ready for," she said.

She recalled a rescue response after a close call when a woman broke through the ice skating on Lake Minnewanka last winter.

"Somebody else tried to rescue her and then he fell in and was able to get out.

It was a joint response with Parks Canada and the fire department and EMS. By the time we arrived she had managed to get herself out, but she’d been in the water for 30 minutes,” she said.

The woman was taken to hospital and treated for cold water injuries.

She says the woman was lucky and situations like that can be avoided if people take the proper precautions and access the risks.

“We are embarking on a pretty magical part of the year where mountain lakes start to freeze and the invite to go skating on them becomes inviting,” she said.

“It’s kind of like this window of November, that is the opportunity to skate on many of the lakes but really have to take effort to make sure the ice is thick enough.”

Parks Canada is also encouraging people to educate themselves about ice safety, what to bring and how to self rescue and offer the following guidelines from the Canadian Red Cross.

What to do before heading out on ice:

  • Check for cracks in the ice and drill a hole to help determine the depth of the ice;
  • Wear personal flotation devices (PFDs) while skating if you are uncertain about ice thickness;
  • Carry rope to help reach someone, and ice picks to help pull yourself out;
  • Call 911 or 403-762-4506 in case of emergency; and
  • Tell someone you trust where you or your group is going and when you plan to return, especially when venturing out to a remote area.

What to do if you break through the ice:

  • Call for help;
  • Resist the immediate urge to climb back out as the ice is weak in the area. Instead try to relax and catch your breath; and
  • Turn yourself to shore where the ice is more stable. Reach forward onto the broken ice without pushing down. Kick your legs to try to get your body into a horizontal position and try to crawl onto the ice.

What to do if you if someone else breaks through the ice:

  • Call for help and determine if you can get help from trained professionals such as police or firefighters;
  • If you can reach the person using a branch or long pole, do so by laying down and extended the pole or branch;
  • Use pole or branch to test the ice in front of you if you venture onto the ice;
  • If you go onto the ice, wear a PFD;
  • Stay low and extend or throw a pole, rope, branch or PFD to the person in the water and have them kick while you pull them out; and
  • Ensure the person is in a safe position on shore or where you’re sure the ice is thick and get them medical help.

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