What weather conditions generate the best natural ice for skating?—An Ice Princess
Gloomy ones. “If I could pick the most ideal weather for my rinks it would be minus 10°C, no wind, no direct sun, and no snowfall,” says Tim Armata, who maintains the lake ice at Alberta’s Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. That’s what made for “the best, smoothest ice I have ever skated on, and it’s only happened twice in my 11 years here.”
Wind keeps the ice from freezing uniformly. “You get seams,” says Nevil Knupp, a Crystal Lake, Ont., cottager who creates a rink on his lake every winter. “The ice isn’t consistent. It’s like you’ve painted a surface, then added more coats to only one part.” He says a shaded area, sheltered from the wind, makes the best cottage rink. If you plan to maintain a rink, either keep it clear and snow-free all the time, or leave it alone until “just before rink day.” Any foot traffic on top of an unprepped surface can cause imperfections in the ice.
This probably goes without saying, but the best ice is the ice that’s safe: clear and blue, not opaque or grey, and at minimum 20 cm thick (to hold multiple skaters). Unfortunately, lake ice formation is about as predictable as Donald Trump’s career trajectory. “You can never be 100 per cent sure that ice that was safe yesterday is safe today,” says Armata. Water depth and lake size, currents, and, of course, the air temperature, all affect ice formation. Temperature fluctuations and even snow, no matter how cold it is, can make the ice weak. A thick blanket of snow insulates the ice, says Gail Botten, a program adviser in swimming and water safety with the Canadian Red Cross. Ice strength also varies from one part of the lake to the next. So always skate with a buddy, says Botten, and bring safety equipment—like rope or a long pole—for emergencies.
Many municipalities and lake associations monitor ice in the winter. Check with yours if you need a second opinion.
This question was originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of Cottage Life magazine.
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