Some must read tips before ice skating outside on that frozen lake!

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Here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you do have the most enjoyable (and safe) time you can when skating outdoors on frozen lakes and ponds! 

one kid pulling another on a sled while they skate on a frozen lake at sunset

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How do you know when frozen lakes are safe to skate on?

According to the Canadian Red Cross, ice should be at least 20-25 cm thick for group skating (that’s about 8 inches). Remember, the more people the more weight on the ice.   The recommendation for snowmobiling on ice is 25 cm (10 inches).

There are many factors which play into the safety of frozen bodies of water… things like temperature, water composition, current, depth, and underwater geography.

a danger thin ice sign posted by jasper park lodge in jasper national park
A very large ‘danger – thin ice’ sign posted by Jasper Park Lodge on Lake Beauvert in Jasper National Park

A few other tips for assessing ice safety:

  • Use a drill and tape measure to check the ice’s thickness
  • Don’t go on ice that has open water
  • Check the ice thickness in different places
  • Dark blue ice is safer than opaque white or grey ice
  • Consult with the local authority’s ice safety assessments

I’ll be honest, I get nervous on frozen lakes…. no matter how thick that ice is!  I prefer to skate on ice that is being actively monitored and maintained by municipalities or organizations.  When the ice is being cleared and maintained with equipment you can be pretty certain that they’re keeping a close eye on the ice conditions and thickness.

And, it should go without saying that if at anytime there’s a “no skating – thin ice” sign posted, don’t go out there!

people walking on a frozen lake Lake louise with a danger thin ice sign
Doesn’t seem like a ‘thin ice’ sign and some open water is enough stopping these explorers on Lake Louise in Banff National Park.

Tips for an enjoyable outdoor family skate

Kids should wear helmets

Have you ever seen a kid smash their head on the ice?  Ouch!  Kids who are little and new to ice skating are especially at risk to some bad falls.  Even strong skaters can have spills and wearing a helmet is just a smart thing to do.

Frozen lakes and ponds may have cracks and uneven areas which can trip even the best skaters. In fact, skating with a hockey stick is a smart tip even if you’re not playing hockey because the stick will give you some stability on the uneven surfaces.

Our kids will wear their bike helmets or ski helmets when we go skating as we don’t have hockey helmets.  But, if you plan to slap a few pucks around, the guard on the hockey helmets are a good idea because, believe me, a hockey puck in the face is no fun!

young kid wearing a helmet and ski goggles

Warm your skates up

Don’t leave the skates in the garage or outdoors right before your skate.  Bring them into the house so they warm up.  They’ll be easier to get onto those little feet if they’re not frozen.

If you are driving to your skating adventure, transport the skates in a part of the vehicle that will keep them warmer.

tying skates outdoors
Tying skates can be cold – bring along mini-gloves to keep fingers warm for this task.

Dress warmly

You’ll want to make sure you and your kids are dressed for an afternoon outdoors.  Warm socks, good mittens, neck warmers, toques, snow pants, and warm jackets.

However, if it is close to freezing I find my older kids will complain of being too hot after they’ve been skating around for a while.  Oftentimes, wearing layers that can be peeled off is a good idea.

If your kids are wearing helmets (like they should) they could wear a balaclava or a buff underneath.  If it’s really cold or windy, a pair of ski goggles will help keep the face warmer and help the kids see into the wind.

Another trick to keeping hands warm is to use some hot hands in mittens or kept in the jacket pockets for quick warm ups.

I wish I had some tips for keeping toes warm when skating.  No matter what I do, or which type of socks I wear, I find my toes are always cold!  So, if you happen to have a great tip for cold toes in skates, I’d love to hear it!

Edited to add that I have since discovered the hot hand version that sticks to the bottom of your foot… these are a bit better if I can get them to stick well to my socks.

outdoor ice skating on the frozen lake at Pyramid Lake in Jasper National Park

You don’t actually need to wear skates!

If you or your kids don’t have skates or don’t know how to skate, just go in your winter boots.  The kids will still have lots of fun running and sliding and exploring around!