'Fatal things can happen:' Yellowknife locals, experts warn of thin ice

·3 min read
Two people walk on Frame Lake in Yellowknife on November 8, 2021. After a warm fall, the people responsible for measuring the ice on the city's lakes say conditions are still dangerous. (Submitted by Kelsie Auger-Raymont - image credit)
Two people walk on Frame Lake in Yellowknife on November 8, 2021. After a warm fall, the people responsible for measuring the ice on the city's lakes say conditions are still dangerous. (Submitted by Kelsie Auger-Raymont - image credit)

Yellowknife resident Kelsie Auger-Raymont was dismayed to look out her window earlier this week and see two people walking out on the ice on Frame Lake.

"[The ice] has to be super thin," she said. "It's been very mild. I don't feel like it's safe at all to walk on there yet."

Auger-Raymont has heard many stories about people falling through the ice in the early weeks of winter, and was afraid the people she saw might be next.

"If people wait until [the city] says it's safe, they aren't at risk for a near-miss like that," she said. "People go out and test it often to see when the ice road and transportation can start up."

Arnold Enge, who has lived in Yellowknife since 1968, says people disconnected from traditional knowledge about how the winter ice forms on these lakes may not know how to keep themselves safe.

"Hikers may want to take a shortcut, cut across the ice, cut across a small stream or a small lake or something like that," he said. "And if they're not prepared, then fatal things can happen.

"You've got to know how thick the ice should be so that you can safely walk on it. You have to know if there are any currents in the lake where thin ice may exist. You need years of remembering to know if it's safe."

'Typically, there's lots of ice by now'

In Yellowknife, ice thickness testing is done by members of the Great Slave Snowmobile Association (GSSA) and posted to the City of Yellowknife website every monday.

The city advises people to stay off the ice until it measures at least six inches deep in all areas tested.

GSSA president Shaun Morris says he understands why some people would think they can walk on the ice in November — in previous years, they often could. But an unseasonably warm fall has changed the conditions dramatically.

"Typically, there's lots of ice by now," Morris said. "Typically, there's lots of snow by now. And we have neither of them right now. It's just a very odd year with the late fall and the way the ice is forming, so everyone should veer on the side of caution."

According to Morris, ice on the lakes can be deceptive, particularly when it is just beginning to form.

"It may look solid as you're walking near shore, but as you get closer to the middle or a deeper area, it can change significantly," he said.

If you do fall through the ice, Morris offered some practical survival tips — stay calm, don't panic and try to get back on top of the ice by laying flat and using your feet to kick up.

But he would rather not see it come to that.

"The best thing you can do is not go on the ice until you know it's thick enough."

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