Skating on Calgary storm ponds is unsafe, city officials warn

Even with people taking safety precautions, storm pond skating is still dangerous, according to officials. (Nick Brizuela/CBC - image credit)
Even with people taking safety precautions, storm pond skating is still dangerous, according to officials. (Nick Brizuela/CBC - image credit)

With the cold snap behind us, some Calgarians are lacing up their skates to enjoy some outdoor fun. But the City of Calgary is again asking people to refrain from skating on storm ponds.

According to the city, factors such as constantly changing water levels — along with sediment and contaminants such as fertilizers, vehicle fluids and road salt that are collected as water travels through to the storm pond — can weaken the ice, making the ponds unsafe to skate on.

There are more than 200 stormwater ponds across Calgary, each marked with warning signs against their recreational use.

"We do have a bylaw that prohibits you from going in or on the storm ponds. That's year round," said Carol Henke, the public information officer with the Calgary Fire Department.

"It might look safe, just at a glance, from the surface, but it's not."

The city said rinks maintained by city are among the safest places to skate because they are checked daily for ice thickness and quality, and surfaces are flooded as needed to make sure they're safe for skating.

Nick Brizuela/CBC
Nick Brizuela/CBC

They're encouraging skaters to use one of the dozens of City of Calgary or community-designated outdoor skating rinks for free and safe skating.

But Neil Ferguson says people who are using the stormwater pond in his neighbourhood are being very careful.

During the pandemic, Ferguson says he would clean up the ice and set up goals for his son and his friends while making sure the pond was safe for skating. They've since carried on using it, and he says they're continuing to be cautious.

"People have been skating in this pond for probably 12, 14 years now without a problem," he said. "People are taking the precautions."

Ferguson says he takes several measures, including waiting at least three weeks, drilling through the ice and making sure it's no fewer than five inches thick before anyone goes on the pond.

He believes the bylaw is a "catch-all" to make sure everyone is safe.

However, in previous years, Henke said there have been instances of people breaking and falling through the ice and being rescued by bystanders.

"It gets very close to becoming a fatal and very tragic incident," Henke said. "Which is what we're trying to prevent … that is the whole reason this bylaw exists."

People found to be violating the bylaw can be fined, but Henke said that's typically the last measure. She said they focus on education first before resorting to enforcement.

The city recommends visiting its webpage Calgary.ca for a detailed list of safe outdoor rinks.