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‘Consider all ice unsafe’: Experts warn against going near frozen water during mild winter

The skating rink under the canopy at The Forks is always a hot commodity on a mild winter day. But for some skaters, it’s become a consolation prize.

“We were expecting to go on the river trail, show the kids the river trail,” said Robyn Knight, who was visiting with her family from B.C. “They’ve never been on it before, and so we’re skating here instead.”

The Forks says the Nestawaya River Trail isn’t yet ready for the hordes of skaters itching to carve up the ice.

Communications director Larissa Peck said the unseasonably warm temperatures the past few weeks has delayed the trail’s opening. “What we’re doing is working to flood the ice, to build up the ice a little bit, to create a safe spot should mother nature cooperate and give us those cold temps,” said Peck.

“In fact, it’s quite unsafe to be on the river at this moment. You don’t have to look far to see open water,” she added.

It’s a message water safety experts are echoing.

“Right now, with these weather conditions, the best thing is to stay off the ice. Consider all ice unsafe at this point,” said University of Manitoba thermophysiology professor Gordon Giesbrecht.

Giesbrecht emphasized that the river ice thickness needs to be tested before anyone ventures out anywhere on the water.

“And you’re looking for four inches of ice … and it needs to be blue ice,” he said.

Christopher Love with Lifesaving Society Manitoba said anyone planning to be on or near the ice should make preparations.

“Make sure first of all, you’re not going alone. Have somebody with you so if something goes wrong with one of you, somebody else can respond,” he said.

Love recommends carrying safety equipment like ice picks and a whistle, and wearing something that will help keep you afloat in case you go through.

“It may sound silly, but wear a life jacket over top of your winter jacket, or wear what is called a floater coat or snowmobile suit,” said Love.

Giesbrecht said anyone who does fall through the ice should follow the “one-ten-one” principle.

“If you fall in, you have one minute to get your breathing under control, 10 minutes of meaningful movement, and one hour before you become unconscious due to hypothermia.”

Both experts agree that the most effective way to get out of the freezing water is the kick and pull method.

“Put your arms on the ice, face me, come towards me, kick your feet. Okay, now pull yourself up on the ice,” Giesbrecht instructed.

The city says on average, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service responds to around 150 water and ice safety calls each year. Anyone who sees someone fall through the ice should call 911 and keep track of where they are until help arrives. Unless you are trained to do so, do not go in after them.

More information about ice safety can be found online.

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