February 23rd, 2024

Skaters take rare chance to hit the ice in B.C. cold snap, but face safety warnings

By Nono Shen, The Canadian Press on January 16, 2024.

People dressed in Vancouver Canucks jerseys play hockey on frozen Trout Lake amid a cold snap in Vancouver on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns

VANCOUVER – Andrew Mar was lacing up at Trout Lake in Vancouver, where a cold snap has been giving residents a rare chance to enjoy what Mar calls the “peak of Canadiana” – outdoor skating.

“This never happens or rarely happens in Vancouver, where it gets so cold that we can skate on the ice. … So, it’s like a special treat,” said Mar at the east Vancouver lake where hundreds of people have taken to the ice.

But the Vancouver Park Board is warning people to stay off the lake, saying it isn’t thick enough to recommend skating. Elsewhere in B.C., people have fallen through ice during the cold spell, prompting warnings from rescue services not to be emboldened by the chilly weather.

At Maple Lake in Cumberland, about 215 kilometres northwest of Victoria on Vancouver Island, rescue crews say a teenager had a lucky escape after plunging through thin ice into 1.5-metre-deep water on Sunday.

Stephane Dionne, deputy fire chief at the Cumberland Fire Department, said crews were called to the scene, but when they arrived the boy had dragged himself out already.

“We were lucky that he didn’t stay long in the water, but the shock of going into the four-degree water was really bad for him,” said Dionne.

He says people should stay off ice in the area.

“For my region, what I recommend is, don’t skate on the ice outside, which isn’t safe. If you want to skate, go to the arena or someplace like that because the mild weather we have in the valley on the island isn’t safe at all,” said Dionne, adding that they normally receive about one call to an ice rescue at Maple Lake every year.

Dionne said his crew might respond to a call but ice rescues in the region are conducted by Comox Valley Search and Rescue workers who are qualified and have the right equipment.

In the B.C. Interior, local reports said two people fell through ice on Okanagan Lake on Saturday and were rescued by bystanders before emergency crews arrived.

Social media has been flooded with scenes of people in Metro Vancouver enjoying outdoor skating. Some situations are less risky, such as a person who was filmed skating around a sheet of ice at the bottom of a construction site.

But Eva Cook a spokeswoman for the Vancouver Park Board said ice on ponds and lakes needs to be at least 18 centimetres thick before the board would recommend skating. Until then, anyone venturing onto the ice does so at their own risk.

“The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation staff advise folks not to attempt going on any visible ice on lakes and ponds,” said Cook, adding that the ice on Trout Lake was “definitely” not 18 centimetres thick.

Cook said “thin ice” warning signs had been posted, adding that staff would continue checking the ice thickness.

The signs didn’t deter people out on the lake on Monday.

Vancouver resident Tracy Mack said she was a frequent Trout Lake visitor, but a first-time skater there.

“It’s cool, and it doesn’t happen very often … I felt very Canadian today “¦ until I fell down,” said Mack, who was skating on her lunch break.

Skating on the frozen ponds is rare for Vancouver residents, but Diyah Pera, who grew up in Winnipeg said it reminded her of her childhood.

“It’s a beautiful day, the sun is out. That’s all you need,” said Pera, who was waiting for his friends to lace up before taking to the ice together.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 16, 2024.

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