Ice skating

Banff National Park

Outdoor ice skating is a popular activity in the park. Parks Canada does NOT monitor natural ice surfaces for safety or mark potential hazards.

Many environmental factors affect the thickness of the ice. If you choose to skate on natural ice, you do so at your own risk. The recommended ice thickness is 15 cm for walking or skating alone and 20 cm for skating parties or games.

Ice safety from The Canadian Red Cross

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

The colour of ice may be an indication of its strength:

  • Clear blue ice is strongest.
  • White opaque or snow ice is half as strong as blue ice. Opaque ice is formed by wet snow freezing on the ice.
  • Grey ice is unsafe. The grayness indicates the presence of water.

Ice thickness should be:

  • 15 cm for walking or skating alone.
  • 20 cm for skating parties or games.

If you get into trouble on ice and you're by yourself:

  • Call for help.
  • Resist the immediate urge to climb back out where you fell in. The ice is weak in this area.
  • Try to relax and catch your breath. Turn yourself toward shore so you are looking at where you entered onto the ice. The ice is more stable close to shore,
  • Reach forward onto the broken ice without pushing down. Kick your legs to try to get your body into a horizontal position.
  • Continue kicking your legs, and crawl onto the ice.

Rescuing another person from ice can be dangerous. The safest way to perform a rescue is from shore.

  • Call for help. Consider whether you can quickly get help from trained professionals (police, fire fighters or ambulance) or bystanders.
  • Check if you can reach the person using a long pole or branch from shore – if so, lie down and extend the pole to the person.
  • If you go onto ice, wear a PFD and carry a long pole or branch to test the ice in front of you. Bring something to reach or throw to the person (e.g. pole, weighted rope, line or tree branch).
  • When near the break, lie down to distribute your weight and slowly crawl toward the hole.
  • Remaining low, extend or throw your emergency rescue device (pole, rope, line or branch) to the person.
  • Have the person kick while you pull them out.
  • Move the person to a safe position on shore or where you are sure the ice is thick. Signal for help.

Parks Canada recommends

  • Contacting a Parks Canada visitor centre for more information on ice skating.
  • Checking the cracks in the ice or drill a hole to help determine the depth of the ice: minimum of 15 cm thick.
  • Wearing PFD's while skating if you are uncertain about ice thickness.
  • Carrying some rope to help reach someone, and ice picks to help pull yourself out.
  • Calling 911 or 403-762-4506 in case of EMERGENCY.

If you are going to a remote area, tell someone you trust exactly where your group is going and when you plan to return, and any other pertinent information that will assist search and rescue personnel if you do not return as planned.

  Popular ice skating areas

  Vermilion Lakes

Accessible from the Vermilion Lakes Drive, these lakes are near the town of Banff, just west of Mt. Norquay Road. Warm springs keep some parts of these lakes open; do not assume an even thickness. At Third Vermilion Lake, avoid the area east of the dock.

  Johnson Lake

Located east of the town of Banff, off the Lake Minnewanka Road, Johnson Lake is a popular skating area. This lake can have a varying thickness of ice as with all natural ice surfaces. Ice may be thinner at the west end of Johnson Lake near the foot bridge where a stream exits the reservoir. 

  Two Jack Lake

This is another popular lake for skating off the Lake Minnewanka Road. Be aware that some areas on the lake have some thin sections and some open water. Stay well away (100 m at least) from the dam at the east end of the lake. There is always open water and dangerously thin ice in this area. Pay close attention ‎to where you skate as conditions can change with water flow changes beneath the surface.

  Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka reservoir is northeast of the town of Banff on Lake Minnewanka Road. Because of its size and depth, it does not usually freeze over until well into mid-winter. The west end of the lake, near the Lake Minnewanka Road, is the last part of the lake to freeze each winter. As this is an artificial reservoir, water level varies throughout the winter and ice can be cracked near the shoreline. Winds can be strong on this 30 km long lake. Skaters can be pushed out by the winds and may not be able to skate back. Bring boots to walk back or stay close to your starting point. The lake is large -- be aware that help can be a long way away if you get into trouble.

  Cascade Pond

Cascade Pond is located off Lake Minnewanka Road, close to town. There is often thinner ice on the north and east edges of the pond where streams enter and exit the pond – use caution.

  Bow River

This is the closest natural ice surface to the town of Banff. Flowing river means ice thickness varies dramatically from place to place, and day to day. While this is not a maintained rink, an oval might be cleared for skating on the river just west of Bow Avenue.

  Other skating options
  • Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre: indoor skating and outdoor skating pathway
  • Banff Recreation Grounds
  • In front of Chateau Lake Louise (November to April)
  • The Lake Louise Recreation Centre, located on Village Road (covered outdoor hockey and ice skating rink)

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