The key to winning the Lake Windermere Ambassador’s ‘Catch the Freeze’ contest is knowing Lake Windermere inside and out. Just ask longtime Invermere resident Don Steedman.

Steedman, who made local headlines last winter after he accidentally plunged through the ice while mountain biking on the lake in January, was one of 50 or so people who entered the contest to guess when the lake’s surface would freeze over edge to edge. Steedman, along with Baiba Morrow of Wilmer, correctly guessed December 10 and the winners won an ‘I Love My Lake’ T-shirt for their accurate calculations.

“I’ll wear it proudly,” grinned Steedman.

But this doesn’t mean the ice is safe, warned Lake Windermere Ambassadors (LWA) program co-ordinator Kirsten Harma.

The date of the freeze was determined visually over a matter of days by the contest’s judges — Harma and District of Invermere mayor Gerry Taft — with a little help from LWA board member Terry MacRitchie, who witnessed two coyotes cross the lake on the 10th.

“We want to caution people that in no way do we claim that the lake is good  enough to walk on or solid enough for any activity,” Harma said.

According to historic lake freeze information recorded by the Lake Windermere Project and based on MacRitchie’s personal observations, this year’s freeze date is the most delayed since 2004, when ice began forming in October but the actual freeze date was sometime between December 12 and 20.

Unfortunately, this means the Lake Windermere Whiteway — the 17 kilometre groomed track that runs all the way around the lake’s ice — will not be ready for public use before Christmas, or even New Year’s.

“I’ll put the cross country ski track down at eight inches,” said Brad Kitching, who is hired by the Toby Creek Nordic Club to groom and maintain the Whiteway.

“The thing that concerns me the most is consistency,” he said. “I may have three inches over here but only two over there because the waters moving in that location or there’s a creek or a spring.”

In a day, Kitching might drill 300 holes over the course where the track will go to determine its consistency.

“Really, I’m not paying attention to it until there’s at least six inches,” he said. “Generally speaking, if it’s minus 10 (Celsius) we gain an inch a night, or a day.”

To have the Whiteway ready to go for New Year’s, the temperature needs to be minus ten consistently for about ten days, Kitching said, and as soon as the Whiteway is operational, the Toby Creek Nordic Club will make a public announcement and put signs out on the ice to indicate it’s open for public use.

“I will just keep on monitoring it as it gets closer and closer and hopefully we’ll be able to get it going for New Year’s,” Kitching said. “I would say right now Christmas is out of the way.”