When it comes to the initial creation of an outdoor rink, weather can either be your greatest ally or your fiercest adversary. We’ll review the ideal weather conditions for initial build of your backyard ice rink project as well as the finishing touches for the first skate, and the daily upkeep. Before we start, keep in mind these key tips:
- Clear the area of snow and debris before laying out the liner.
- Don’t lay out the rink liner on a windy day. It can be difficult to manage in the wind.
- Don’t walk on the rink liner during or after setup. This may cause punctures in the liner.
Now let’s get started!
The Initial Build
There's no denying it, cold weather is a rink builder's most reliable ally, and the colder, the better. Watch the weather forecast for a cold spell, and only plan to fill your rink with water when the daytime high temperature is below freezing, and the nighttime low temperature is at least -5C or colder. Even at these temperatures, it will take some time to freeze a thick block of ice.
Ideally, you’ll start your rink when the daytime high is -5C or below, with the nighttime temperature dipping below -10C. At these cold temps, your ice should form in 2-3 days. If you're fortunate enough to experience a daily temperature range of -10°C to -20°C, you'll have a solid ice base in no time.
While, on rare occasions, we've been fortunate to run a hose for 15 consecutive hours during an intense cold spell of -25°C, which rapidly transformed the water into a glacier-like block with hills and flowing ice, such occurrences are infrequent. More often than not, you'll be closely monitoring the weather forecast and hoping for clear, cold nights.
Finally, remember that during this initial build, the goal is simply to create a big block of ice. The surface may look like a disaster, particularly if there was slush that was walked in and then froze up, but this will resolve surprisingly easily during the next phase, preparing the ice for first use. During this initial build, don’t concern yourself with a smooth surface – focus instead on creating a block of ice.
- The ground is frozen. When the ground is frozen, heat from the earth won’t impede the freezing process, as there is no heat source acting on the rink – it is surrounded by cold from all sides. If you fill the rink with water before the ground is frozen, heat emitted from the ground will cause a lengthy delay in the freezing of the water.
- The nighttime temperature is below -5°C, or even colder, and the daytime temperature is freezing or lower.
Do Not Start When:
- The ground is still unfrozen.
- A warm spell is on the horizon in the seven-day forecast. While a few nights with lows of -8°C are promising, these can be negated by 6C sunny days. It's crucial to exercise patience and wait for consistently cold conditions.
- A snowstorm is approaching. It's advisable to wait for the snowfall and then shovel it to the rink's perimeter before laying down the liner and filling the rink.
Remember, addressing challenges is relatively straightforward when the weather is exceptionally cold. On the contrary, resolving issues like liner leaks becomes nearly impossible when the temperatures aren't sufficiently low to freeze the water. The key is patience; wait for the cold weather!
Preparing Your Rink for First Use
Now that you have a solid ice block, it's time to focus on creating a smooth skating surface. This step is straightforward—add thin layers of water to fill in any indents and uneven areas. Don't worry if you end up with a slushy mess during the initial build; a few light layers on a cold night can quickly transform it into a smooth surface.
There's one more step to optimize the ice surface—use it. Skate on it, play a game of hockey; the rink surface improves with use. Don't wait for perfection; it's part of the process.
Maintaining your backyard rink is quite simple and involves two straightforward steps:
- Clear the rink of snow. Whether it's a foot of snow from an overnight snowfall or the aftermath of an intense hockey game, use a reliable shovel with a thin metal edge to remove all the snow. It's a good idea to designate one as your "Rink Shovel", preserving it only to be used on the rink. A shovel that is used for clearing driveways and walkways will become bent, and less useful at ensuring a good scraping of the ice before a flood.
- After clearing the snow, provide a fresh flood to the rink. Consider using cold or hot water for flooding, a topic we've discussed in detail in a previous article.
With this approach, you'll ensure your rink remains in excellent condition and ready for the next skating session!