A French tourist came to the Yukon for a ‘real Canadian winter’ and fell through the ice
A French tourist in Whitehorse last week braved all odds when she fell multiple times through thin ice into a lake and still managed to get out of the water unharmed.
“I was extremely lucky. I know you get hypothermia if you don’t drown, and that’s the other danger,” said Raphaële Meignen.
Meignen’s misadventure began when she rented a car in Whitehorse to explore alone with a friend during a month-long stay. A visit to the Yukon offered the opportunity to experience a “real Canadian winter”.
“I was super excited because I wanted to go around, see and, you know, just explore a little bit more,” she said.
She drove south from Whitehorse and stopped at a recreation area on Marsh Lake. It was a relatively mild winter day with temperatures just below zero.
“It was snowing, so I didn’t feel like going to the mountains. I was just like, ‘Okay, I’m going to take a nice walk on the lake, that’s safer’ — haha,” she recalled.
Meignen put on her snowshoes and followed a path to the lake. She decided to head to a nearby island before returning.
“It’s a nice walk. I took pictures and everything,” she said.
Strange noises, then shock
As she was walking along the island, she suddenly heard some strange noises, like “ice breaking”.
“I didn’t know if it was the wind, if it was the snow or whatever. So I just kept going. And at some point I just fall into the water.”
It was an instant shock. The water was deep below, but somehow she managed not to go under directly and—snowshoes, backpack and all—was able to pull herself back onto the ice.
She said she was able to take a few steps before the ice broke beneath her again. She pulled herself up again.
“Then I thought, OK, I guess I’m in the wrong place. I looked around and I could see that the ice wasn’t that thick, that solid… yeah, I was kind of panicking at that point.”
She could see houses on the far shore.
“I screamed. I asked for help but nobody could really hear me and I was just alone in the middle of this lake,” she said.
Meignen says she broke through a few more times, each time being able to keep her torso out of the water. Finally she pulled out.
She decided to get back to her car as soon as possible, where she had dry clothes and could use the heater to warm up.
“I prayed and walked very quickly,” she recalled. It took her about 20 minutes.
When she got there she was shaking more from fear than from the cold, she estimates.
She is grateful for the relatively mild weather that day. If it had been colder and windier, she might not have been so lucky.
It took her a few days to mentally recover from the ordeal. She’s fine physically, she says.
Mild winter means different ice conditions
A week later, she’s a bit embarrassed about what she describes as a “silly story,” which can be blamed on her own careless excitement. Little did she know that the calm lake she was walking on was part of the Yukon River system, where flowing water can make for shady ice in some areas.
“It was so nice. I just wanted to go out,” she said.
“I lived in Canada for a year so I know you have to be concerned about the ice conditions and the weather conditions to avoid stepping on the ice [at the] inlet or outlet of the lake. I knew all that, but, I don’t know, I just loved the place and the vibe.”
Whitehorse Fire Department’s Barry Blisner says it’s easy to misjudge ice conditions, especially where water is moving. He also reminds people that it has been a relatively mild winter this year.
“We won’t have the same ice conditions on March 1 as we had on March 1 last year,” Blisner said.
“Generally [Marsh Lake] will freeze, but the fact that it fell in mid-February tells us it’s thawing even faster than normal or not frozen as it normally would.”
Blisner advises people to be prepared when venturing onto the ice: wear a life jacket, have supplies to start a fire, and warm up quickly if you’re soaking wet and far from help.
Meignen has her own advice.
“I would say get information from people who are knowledgeable about the place, who are knowledgeable about the ice and the weather,” she said.
“And don’t go alone like me.”