With a blast of Arctic air on Monday

With a blast of Arctic air on Monday

Skating in Whonnock wonderland

City of Maple Ridge still warns people to stay off ice.

Any time the West Coast feels a bite of arctic air, or a North American air mass makes its way past the mountains, Whonnock Lake, in eastern Maple Ridge, can turn into a winterland.

If there’s snow, the towering firs and evergreens look like they’ve just been sprayed with Christmas foam.

And if it’s cold enough and outdoor fans are lucky enough, the lake will freeze and allow magic to happen.

That happened to part of the lake, at least, on Monday as an arctic outflow hit the South Coast of B.C.

Despite thin ice warning signs, and cold wind, families and dogs were walking, skating and shivering on the new ice, close to the shaded, south shore of the lake.

Whonnock residents Camille and Andrew Fawcett brought their family out to celebrate their son’s sixth birthday.

“So we thought we’d come here and have a skate,” said Camille. “It’s pretty windy out.”

Andrew said the ice was about 10 centimetres thick. He heard about the outdoor skating from his son’s hockey team.

The ice seemed to be in two layers, he added, with one formed during the cold spell a few weeks ago.

Maple Ridge residents Sue and Stefen Blessing also brought their two kids, Sarah and Markus, though only Sarah was wearing skates. They stop at the lake every year to check out the ice.

“When I was their age, it freeze-up happened more often,” Sue said of the lake freezing over.

Whonnock resident Reinhard Fabische, 79, is also a regular visitor.

Fabische, a former mountain climber of 30 years, used to skate on the frozen fields when he was growing up in Germany.

He’s been doing the same thing in Maple Ridge for the last 30 years on Whonnock Lake, anytime the winter allows it.

He stays close to shore, where the water’s less than a metre deep. The area along the south shoreline stays frozen longer because it’s shaded by the forest, he said.

But in parts where it’s windy, or where there’s a creek or a beaver pond, the freezing process takes longer and the ice can be thinner.

He points out that even though Whonnock Lake is 100 metres above sea level, it’s enough to make a difference and keep the ice when other parts of Metro Vancouver have melted.

While he remembers his younger days, he also wonders about today’s current fixation on safety.

“Everything is super secure. Somebody has to tell me what I can do when it comes to the most simple thing.

“Everything is so controlled, you know.”

Fabische is also on the recent on drone video of Whonnock Lake, which earlier in December caught images of skaters on the glass-smooth surface.

The City of Maple Ridge, though, says people should stay off ice, anywhere in the city.

Temperatures here hover around 0 C and can change too quickly and make ice unsafe.

“We do not monitor the ice thickness out there,” at Whonnock Lake, said Valoree Richmond, manager of parks, planning and operations.

“With that in mind, we do not advise anyone to go out on to the ice.”

She added that cold spells don’t happen often enough for the city to monitor ice regularly.

She said ice should be 20 centimetres (eight inches) thick before it can be skated on.

But many factors can determine ice safety, according to the Canadian Red Cross.

It says that clear, blue ice is the strongest – while white or opaque snow-ice is only half as strong.

Grey ice is considered unsafe because it indicates the presence of water.

The website says the ice can be 15 cm thick for walking or solitary skating while it should be 20 cm thick for groups of skaters.

According to Environment and Natural Resources, an arctic ridge of high pressure over the B.C. Interior had created arctic outflow conditions.