Heading out in the ice and cold? Here's how to keep safe exploring winter's beauty

The Hamilton Conservation Authority has provided a guide for people to keep safe while still enjoying the natural areas around the city.

A safety guide to enjoy Hamilton’s conservation areas

During most winters huge mounds of ice form along parts of the Lake Ontario shoreline. They can break apart at any time and are very slippery. The Hamilton Conservation Authority says getting out of the water is almost impossible if one were to fall into the water. (Laura Clementson/CBC)

With the arrival of winter comes the stark beauty of snow and ice, but along side that comes a set of seasonal hazards, something the Hamilton Conservation Authority wants people to be aware of while continuing to enjoy the natural areas around the city.

The HCA has provided a guide with tips to help stay safe this winter.

HCA director of conservation area services, Gord Costie says even with recent cold temperatures, there still aren't safe ice conditions at Valens Lake for ice fishing or skating. 

Costie says Valens currently has 10 centimetres of ice, but hasn't met the 15 centimetre benchmark yet. 

"It's not always the same from one body of water to another and at Valens, we haven't reached the safe ice minimum thickness," said Costie. 

The HCA encourages people to check with the authority or to visit the HCA website for condition updates. 

The Hamilton Conservation Authority says automatic external defibrillators are located in the major conservation areas. They asked that rescue equipment be undisturbed so that it's available in the event of an emergency and for visitors to familiarize themselves with where the rescue equipment is located. (Laura Clementson/CBC)

Knowing the danger of cold water

The authority says the best way to enjoy a safe visit to Hamilton's conservation areas is to stay off the ice, not to just be aware of it.

Ice factors

Many factors affect ice thickness including: type of water, location, the time of year and other environmental factors such as:

  • Water depth and size of body of water.
  • Currents and other moving water.
  • Chemicals including salt.
  • Fluctuations in water levels.
  • Logs, rocks and docks absorbing heat from the sun.
  • Changing air temperature,

Ice colour

According to the HCA, the colour of the ice may be an indication of its strength.

  • Clear blue ice is the strongest.
  • White opaque or snow is half as strong as blue ice (opaque ice is formed by wet snow freezing on the ice).
  • Grey ice is unsafe - the greyness indicates the presence of water.

Safe ice thicknesses

  • 15 cm is safe for walking of skating in pairs.
  • 20 cm is safe for skating parties or games.
The colour of ice matters. Clear blue ice is the strongest and grey ice is unsafe, it indicates the presence of water. (Laura Clementson/CBC)

Rescue equipment

  • Automatic external defibrillators are located in the major conservation areas.
  • Leave rescue equipment undisturbed so that it is available in the event of an emergency.
  • Winter visitors should familiarize themselves with where the rescue equipment is located.

Cold water - hypothermia

  • Cold water kills.
  • There may be only minutes between life and death when water approaches 0 C.
  • Not only must we consider the amount of time in the water that a person might be exposed to, but also the time it takes to get a person to a warm place after rescue.
Extreme caution should be used where the ground is uneven or near a cliff edge as icy condition may cause slips and falls says the Hamilton Conservation Authority. (Laura Clementson/CBC)

Hazardous conditions in the conservation areas

Trails

  • Extreme caution should be used where the ground is uneven or near a cliff edge as icy condition may cause slips and falls.
  • Avoid approaching the escarpment edge where ice or snow may compromise solid footing or hide possible dangers.

Creeks and streams

  • Creek and stream banks should be avoided in the winter.
  • Ice and snow make footing unpredictable, and with frequent freezes and thaws throughout the season, water flow may become a dangerous factor.
  • Keep all children away from creeks and streams.

Ponds

  • Do not walk out on to frozen lakes or ponds unless it is posted safe to do so.
  • Follow all posted instructions and never go out alone.

Dams

  • Ice near a dam should never be walked on.
  • HCA offers the opportunity to walk across some of our dams as part of our trail network. Note that the walkways across dams are often very slippery and handrails should be used when crossing.
  • Running and jogging should be avoided.
  • Extreme care is required around dams with many hazards such as steep banks and cold water present.
  • Never walk on any part of a dam that is not clearly marked for passage.

Shorelines and marinas

  • Lake Ontario shorelines and marinas (and any decks or boardwalks around marinas) should always be avoided during cold periods of the year with the exception of permitted ice fishing.
  • During the fall and winter, water levels are low and this makes it very difficult for someone to climb out of the water should they fall in.
  • Boardwalks may be icy and slippery.
  • Even when there is no ice, the cold water is a serious hazard. Use the roadways around the area for walking.

Lake Ontario shoreline ice mounds

  • During most winters huge mounds of ice form along parts of the Lake Ontario shoreline. They can break apart at any time and are very slippery.
  • The HCA says getting out of the water is almost impossible if one was to fall into the water.
  • Stay away and enjoy their beauty from a distance.