Truckee officials urge safety for those ice skating on frozen Donner Lake

Special to the Sun
Sylas Wright / Sierra SunPeople were out and about Monday morning on the east end of a frozen Donner Lake.

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Recently, officials with the Truckee Police Department and Truckee Fire Protection District have noticed the popularity of ice skating on Donner Lake.

This is worrisome, because while conditions in the past month have been extremely cold, the current conditions have warmed considerably and the ice is generally unstable.

Unlike the Eastern United States, we generally do not have the consistently cold temperatures to sustain ice on area lakes and ponds due to their size and water currents. The conditions present today on Donner Lake are similar to conditions 5 years ago when a skater fell through the ice and drowned: Ice that was generally believed strong and safe was actually thin and weak.

There is no law or ordnance prohibiting ice skating on a body of water. This is simply a matter of an individual choice and risk.

The fundamental question asked of Town authorities is: “is the ice safe?” Unfortunately, there is no sure answer. The strength of the ice cannot be determined solely by its appearance, age, thickness, temperature, etc. 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.

“Ice skating on a lake is an unusual thing to do, and it can be a lot of fun. But for us, the conditions on our local lakes, especially Donner Lake, is just plain dangerous – the ice is not stable,” said Truckee Police Department Dive Team Supervisor Sergeant Jason Litchie.

“We agree,” said Truckee Fire Protection District Captain Paul Spencer. “We have had numerous ice related incidents and fatalities at our area lakes over the years, and we have areas of open water not far off shore. Yearly statistics show upward of 235 people die from falling through ice. Please be aware of your surroundings and how many people are with you on the ice.

If you decide to recreate on the area lakes or ponds, consider wearing a life jacket, bringing a rope, and always bring along a buddy.

– This informational press release is a combined statement from the Truckee Fire and Police Water Rescue Recovery Team published Tuesday afternoon via Truckee Police’s online Nixle page. To sign up for alerts, visit

Look to later this week for an extended story about the lake’s conditions and its frozen history.

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.