At this time of year, the most frequently asked question over the phone or via email at Sport Resource Group is, “How do I build an backyard ice rink?” While a few of the steps are pretty basic, there is a lot more to it than just turning on a hose and walking away. First of all, realize that building a rink is not as simple as just freezing an area of your yard one day/night/weekend and then skating all winter. A good outdoor rink takes maintenance and a little TLC, but if it is done right and can be shared among family members, it can be a fun bonding experience and will be enjoyable for all – not a chore. Start out by staking out a part of your yard. Try to choose the flatest part of your yard. A good rink will have a length-to-width ratio of about 2-to-1 or 2.5-to-1. That means a rink that is 20 feet wide can be 40 feet or 50 feet long. You want to keep the feel of a real hockey rink, so you would not want a 20′ x 100′ rink because that would feel more like a curling area and you would not necessarily want an area 50′ x 50′ either because the players would not know which direction to skate.
In the ice rink business, we say that if you think your backyard, side yard or front yard has a 8″ slope from one side to the other, it probably has a 16″ slope. If you think your yard is perfectly flat, it probably has a 8″ slope. That means that on one side you may have 4″ of ice and on the opposite side you may have 12″ of ice.
After you have selected your area, your next decision will be how to retain your water long enough to hold it and freeze it. Do you want to form your ice and then add boards such as the ProWall-ICE rink system on top of it so you are getting the most playing height out of your boards? Or do you want to set up your boards, freeze and skate? Remember that for every inch of boards that is below your ice level, that is one less inch of dasherboard for playing. In other words, if you set up 42″ high boards and flood up to the 12″ mark, you are only going to have 30″ above the ice to play on. That is one reason so many of our customers build a 10″ or 12″ high containment system, freeze their ice and then add ProWall on top.
Another consideration is whether to use a liner or not. Most customers will need a liner – especially if you live in a town that routinely see winter high temperatures above 40 degrees or if you want to just turn your hose on and let it flood your area. Without a liner, you will lose a lot of water. The only group not using a liner would be anyone who lives in a very cold area of the country and who wants to wait until well into December or January to flood his or her rink.
Now that you have your area picked out as well as your choice of a liner and boards, it’s time to get to work. Set your boards and unfold your liner (clear or white). Attach the liner to your boards with a staple gun or screws. Most people think that they are going to re-use their liner year after year. This is very unlikely. At the end of the year, the liner will be filled with dirt and mud and will take a large area to store. Additionally, if it is not completely dried before you store it, you risk making it moldy while in storage. It is best just to budget for a new liner every year.
Fill your rink with enough water so that the most shallow area has at least 4″ of water. Remember that water freezes from the top down. DO NOT WALK ON YOUR RINK UNTIL IT IS FROZEN ALL THE WAY TO THE BOTTOM (normally 2-3 days of below freezing temps). Once your ice is frozen in place and assuming that you are not going to re-use your liner year after year, you can go along the top of the ice and use a pair of scissors, knife or box cutter to cut away the excess liner. For maintenance, it is wise to use hot water as often as possible to add a thin layer of ice to your rink. By using hot water, it will melt some of the ridges and use gravity to even out your ice surface. Another tip is to remove snow IMMEDIATELY. Snow is full of air and air is like kryptonite to and ice rink. You do not want excess air pockets or air bubbles in between layers of your ice.
Remember that water/ice is the only material in the world that EXPANDS when it gets cold (everything else shrinks) so make sure that if there is any slope at all on the surface where you have built your rink that the side is anchored in place. I have seen entire ice rinks slide down a hill (unfortunately more than once) because the side that was holding the majority of the water/ice was not secured.
These are just a few tips that have helped me build my ice rink year after year. Obviously you need some cold weather as well, but if you make this a family affair and get your kids involved with helping you, you can create memories that they will be telling their kids about in future generations. Good luck – and be sure to add your own tips in the comments section!