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How to stay safe during Whistler’s heat wave

Local experts weigh in with tips to keep cool—and make sure others stay safe
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Spending time at one of Whistler's many lakes (during the morning or evening) is one way to stay cool during the heat wave.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s hot outside.

According to Environment Canada, Whistler—and most of B.C.—is in the midst of a heat warning that isn’t poised to end until “at least” Wednesday. In fact, from Sunday until Tuesday, you can expect to see the mercury peak at 36 C.

To that end, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has a few ideas to help keep residents cool—and safe.

They include:

  • Visit one of Whistler’s quieter parks to spend time in the shade (find one at whistler.ca/parks)
  • Head to the library where the 30-minute “express” visits have been lifted (though mask rules are in place)
  • Book a 60-minute ice-skating session at Meadow Park Sports Centre or check out the air conditioned fitness centre (book at whistler.ca/recreation)
  • Cool off with a visit to the Audain Art Museum or the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre
  • Enjoy extended hours at the spray park at Meadow Park from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Check out the shaded area at Whistler Olympic Plaza
  • Don’t forget to take the bus—which is air conditioned and free from Friday to Sunday—to the lake. 

In the meantime, Whistler's Dr. Karin Kausky advised that now might not be the weekend to tackle the hardest bike rides.

“Use common sense,” she said. “If you’re ever going to give yourself a day off, this would be it. We underestimate how much this heat impacts us. If you’re going to [exercise], do it with someone and not too far from medical help. If something happens while you’re exercising, you have less reserve for managing those injuries.”

It’s also important to understand various heat-related illnesses and how to treat them. They range from minor issues like heat rash and sunburn to more serious problems like heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include excessive sweating, possibly cold, clammy skin and a fast heart rate. It can also include muscle cramps and feeling tired and weak, as well as feeling light headed and nauseous or having a headache.

If someone has these symptoms, “get them out of the heat and move them to a cooler place,” Kausky said. “If you’re able to, put cool, wet towels or cloths on that person. Or get them in a cool bath.”

They should also take small sips of water.

While the person should recover within an hour or so, if their symptoms persist or turn into passing out or throwing up, seek medical help, she added.

Heat stroke is a more serious issue. In that case, the person’s skin is very hot and red and can actually be dry rather than sweaty. They will have a fast heart rate and possibly complain of a headache, light-headedness or nausea.

“Heat stroke is a medical emergency,” Kausky said. “You dial 911.”

Get them out of the heat and into a cool place, cover them in wet towels—but, in this case, don’t give them anything to drink.

While the risk of heat-related illness varies from person to person, it’s important to look out for young children, seniors, people with underlying health issues and vulnerable populations.

Whistler Community Services Society’s (WCSS) outreach team will be walking around the community in the coming days to check on people, particularly those who are homeless or living in less-than-ideal situations.

They will have bottled water and electrolytes, but also have stocked up on water at their building on 8000 Nesters Road. They also have refillable water bottles available at low or no cost to refill in local parks and around town.   

“We absolutely have concern going into this weekend for all our community members,” said Jackie Dickinson, executive director at WCSS. “But [particularly for] those living outside, those who are precariously housed, or those in high-density housing with poor ventilation. If your house is really hot and high density, some of the same challenges that caused COVID to spread the way it did, are the same in this heat wave.”

She also warned that anyone lounging lakeside and consuming substances should also be extra careful about staying hydrated.

While physical health is a concern in extreme heat, so is mental health. “The heat can definitely challenge further our mental health issues,” she said. “If you notice it in your social network or with vulnerable folks, get them to cool spaces and higher level of care, if necessary.”

Living in your car or outdoors can be particularly challenging right now, Dickinson said. If someone needs to access the nearest shelter in Squamish, WCSS can provide free transportation. (Find out more about all their services here.)

Whistler Animals Galore (WAG) also reminded pet owners via Facebook to make sure their pet is kept cool and has access to shade and water in the heat. Limit their exercise and never leave them in a vehicle.

Signs of heat stroke in dogs include heavy panting and difficulty breathing, a bright red tongue and mucus membranes which can turn grey, thick saliva, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, staggering and lethargy.