Ice Skating Safety Tips from a Pro


THIN ICE ALERT THIS WEEKEND

Tonight on First at Five, I hope you have a chance to see my safe ice story. That’s where I show you the tricks of the trade to decide if a frozen lake, pond or stream is safe to walk or skate upon. For effect, I had my hockey stick in hand and ice skates strapped over my shoulder just like I did in the olden days when I was the terror of the Pennypack Creek ice hockey league back in Philly.

If you missed the story, it’s up to me to blog about this topic tonight since our frozen ponds will present a hazard to our kids this weekend. I offer 4 rules for safe ice skating.

Let’s start off with the basics. When I grew up in the 1960s, 70s the park rangers carried a big axe and would chop up the ice of Pennypack every day. When they measured ice to be 4 inches thick, they posted a blue flag as a reminder that the ice was safe. If less than 4 inches, red flags were posted. That was easy to understand.

RULE #1 SAFE ICE TO WALK OR SKATE UPON MEANS A THICKNESS OF 4” (In MINNESOTA, safe snowmobile ice must be 10” thick).

But that was Pennypack in Philly, not Coonskin Park pond in Charleston or Jackson Lake in Ohio or the Little Sandy River in Greenup. So it is up to the adults in my readership to inform the kids of the danger this weekend. You see, after a full week of cold weather, ice surfaces are running anywhere from 1 to 4 inches thick to freely flowing water. At this point, one step on and the ice may growl, then crack. Any kid will know the ice is unsafe instantly. In fact, that first step might go right thru the ice and wet a youngster’s leg.

However, this morning’s cold wave saw temperatures dip to near zero in rural Ohio anda bitter 5 above downtown. So I expect the ice fishermen are out at Krodell Park Lake in Mason County. Ice fishermen, you need to follow the same rule of 34. Three nights below 10 will produce 4 inches of ice, NORMALLY! My gut says will get your chance to chop a big whole in the ice and dip your line into the icy waters on Saturday. With any luck, your stringer will be full of tasty rainbow trout and your skillet will be sizzling on Saturday night!

Back to the unsafe ice of this weekend! The light snows of recent days have coated many ponds and small lakes with a mantle of snow. To the naked eye, these bodies of water look safe. After all, a field of snow is safe to walk on, so why would a pond filled with ice that is covered by snow not also be safe?

RULE #2 BEWARE SNOW COVERED PONDS THAT MAY HIDE THIN ICE UNDERNEATH!

But therein is the trouble for the weekend. Underneath that snow, may be a thin sheet of ice. A kid could wander onto a pond on Saturday, get all the way out to the middle, only to have the thinner ice give way.

That happened in 1977 when I helped rescue 3 kids from a very dangerous situation. I still remember the 3 young boys walking away soaking wet while their sleds lay out on the middle of the creek. It is one of those images you keep for a lifetime.

So why did he almost drown? Well, the bank ice was indeed safe enough to walk on (close to 4” thick), but out in the middle of the creek where the stream’s current was quicker, the ice was thinner. This leads me to Rule #3.

RULE #3 MOVING WATER IS HARDER TO FREEZE THAN STILL WATER, SO ITS THICKNESS WILL BE LESS.

Little streams like 4-Pole creek thru Ritter Park are relatively harmless. Here the bank ice gets thick swiftly, but the “channel” ice waits for the really cold nights before it freezes. As I said in my story, if a kid falls thru a stream like 4-Pole’s ice, he will not get into trouble (except with his mom when he comes home with wet legs since the creek is only about 2 feet deep).

But consider the small rivers of our region. I am talking the Guyandotte (which in Barboursville has a sheet of thin ice on it this Friday) and Coal in WV or the Little Sandy and Licking of Kentucky or the Scioto of Ohio. All these streams have current and current means thinner and weaker ice. Except in the coldest of winters, these small rivers will not freeze solidly enough to trust.

Finally I reiterate that kids should rely on adults to tell them if an ice surface is safe.

RULE =#4 KIDS, LET PARENTS/ADULTS TELL YOU IF ICE IS SAFE. AND PARENTS IF YOU ARE NOT SURE, PLAY IT SAFE.

My memory of Pennypack was 3 nights below 10 degrees and 3 days in the 20s for highs meant great ice skating. That said, I will be testing my skating skills at the Charleston Memorial Ice Rink this weekend. It’s the safest and most fun way for a 50 year old to relive his glory days!

Stay Safe,

Tony


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