As residents rejoice in skating frozen Donner Lake, Truckee officials urge caution

Margaret Moran
Photos by Sylas Wrigt / Sierra SunA group of locals were out Monday playing ice hockey on a frozen Donner Lake.

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Groups of bundled-up people could be seen Monday gliding on Donner Lake, taking advantage of its frozen waters by playing hockey, ice skating and shuffling along the surface.

“(I’m) ecstatic,” said Truckee resident Craig Trumbull, who came out to play hockey with a group of buddies before going to work. “(I’m) very happy because we can skate, we can play hockey.”

Claudia Calvert, a Donner Lake resident, was gliding along the ice in her shoes Monday, while her family watched from the shore.

“I think it’s cool,” she said. “I’ve lived here for 15 years, and only three times in those 15 years that I can remember that I’ve felt safe to go out, mostly because I see people out across (the lake).”

Yet, since safety is a “huge concern” for her, Calvert was only venturing a few feet out into the lake.

In a joint advisory Tuesday afternoon, officials with the Truckee Fire and Police Water Rescue Recovery Team cautioned the public that the ice on Donner Lake is not safe.

“While conditions in the past month have been extremely cold, the current conditions have warmed considerably and the ice is generally unstable,” the advisory stated.

It went on to say that the strength of ice cannot be determined based on its appearance, age, thickness or temperature.

“Ice strength is based on a combination of all these factors, with the addition of other variables such as water depth, water body size, water chemistry, currents, local climate, and the actual load per square inch on the ice,” the advisory stated.

The last time Donner Lake froze over enough for people to recreate on it, in collective memory, was during the 2006-07 winter. It was then, in January 2007, when a 50-year-old Sacramento man fell through the ice and drowned, according to previous reports. George Sommerdorf Jr. was wearing two-foot-tall stilts with ice skates that were fastened with screws, according to police, when he broke through the ice 100 yards from Donner Lake’s north shore.

“We have had numerous ice related incidents and fatalities at our area lakes over the years,” said Truckee Fire Protection District Captain Paul Spencer in Tuesday’s advisory.

Precautions to take before going out on frozen lakes or ponds include measuring ice thickness, wearing a life jacket, bringing a rope and tying it to something on shore, and bring a buddy, said Truckee Police Sgt. Jason Litchie, who is also the department’s dive team supervisor.

“We just don’t want to have a tragedy out there,” he said.

Trumbull and Linda Lindsay, a Truckee resident, both said they follow the prescribed precautions before going out on the ice.

“Everyone looks forward to having good ice every year,” said Lindsay, as she laced up her ice skates Monday on a green, cushionless couch that sat on the ice, before heading out to skate with her family. “We’re all happy it froze over so smoothly.”

Clean ice for skating depends on a weather pattern that combines low temperatures and little snowfall, said Mark McLaughlin, a longtime Tahoe weather historian.

“This is as good as it gets – when it’s (the ice) black and see-through,” said Trumbull, adding he and his fellow hockey players plan on being out on the ice every chance they get.

“It’s nice that everybody is out enjoying it,” Calvert added. “I hope there are no accidents.”

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