When I was around age 5 until I was almost 7, we lived in a nice working class neighborhood in Grand Rapids that has since turned into a ghetto. The homes were tidy but small and every home was chock full of kids. My friend Rita lived three doors down with her many brothers and sisters, and each winter (and these were real winters, with multiple feet of snow due to the great blizzards of the mid and late seventies) her father made an ice skating rink in their backyard. He shoveled the snow into five-foot tall walls and even made benches out of snow along the walls. He strung lights over it and let anyone who wanted skate on it in the late afternoon and evening. That Christmas, I got ice skates from Santa and every day when I got home from school and my mother had given me a snack, I grabbed my skates and headed to Rita’s – this was in the good ol’ days before elementary school children had piles of homework to do.
In my nostalgic mind’s eye, the rink is full of smiling children and the snow is bathed in a golden glow as the sun sets…it was pure kid bliss. I skated until my father came to retrieve me after dark.
Last week I took this photo of our backyard pond.
It’s a lot bigger than this photo makes it look; notice if you look carefully that there is a two-person bench by the edge that looks tiny in this photo. It’s maybe 1/3 of an acre and about 6 feet deep in the center. The pond is roughly figure eight shaped and has a bubbler in each of the two round parts in order to keep the water moving so it doesn’t get scummy and breed mosquitoes in the summer and so it doesn’t entirely freeze over and kill all the fish in the winter. However, my husband figured out how to turn off just one bubbler so that half the pond can freeze over and be turned into a skating rink!
The weather has turned frigid over the past few days and the pond has frozen quickly on the side with the bubbler turned off. Today we ventured out onto it and sure enough, the ice is thick enough!
The first thing you have to do is shovel all the snow off the pond. You can use the snow to make “walls” around your rink; we’re building a snow wall between the side we’re skating on and the side with the bubbler still turned on so that someone doesn’t accidentally skate into open water. So, when I got home from work this evening, we braved the cold and wind and headed out to do some shoveling…
Sorry about the bad quality photos, but I was using my cruddy old Samsung smart phone around 5:30 p.m. You can see the one bubbler that is still on in the distance; the shoveled area in the foreground is solid ice, baby! Who-hoo!
One of the girls helping me shovel:
It’s a lot more shoveling than you’d think!
Once it’s all shoveled off and swept, the hard part begins…flooding the pond surface to smooth out imperfections. I have never actually done this, so I looked up a bunch of sources online, and they all had something different to say. If any readers have experience with making a skating rink, feel free to chime in here!
Find a weak, shallow point of the ice near the edge and cut a hole large enough to fit a bucket or pump underneath. Using the tools you have available, bring pond water to the playing surface and flood the top layer of ice with it in a small layer. Using squeegees or other tools, push the water around so that it does not build up in a single spot. An overuse of water can weigh down the ice, creating cracks, or take too long to freeze, resulting in an uneven playing surface.
Question: OK, fine, we’re keeping the bubbler on one side turned on so it won’t freeze over, but isn’t it unsafe to walk near the unfrozen edge to get buckets full of water?
Look for the highest ice level on the rink. To do this, note the ice line along the sides of the rink wall. Finding the spot with the highest ice level will help you level the surface of the rink when you flood it.
To level the ice, wait until after the sun goes down on a night when the temperature for the next two nights is expected to drop below freezing and the wind level will be minimal.
Fill a standard-size garbage can with warm to hot water. Using warm to hot water strengthens the ice surface and tends to provide an even surface free of ripples or “slush bumps.”
Flood the rink with the water from the garbage can by pouring the water into the rink at the rink’s highest point. The water will flow from the higher part of the rink to the lower part and fill in cracks and holes.
Question: OK, we have a bathroom in our walk-out basement, but how exactly do we get a standard-size garbage can full of water out through the carpeted family room, across the snowy yard, and onto the pond without spilling half of it? And won’t that be heavy?
Now to the flooding. Some prefer to break open an area of the pond ice not designated for skating to access the water to flood their new rink. If you do this just make sure that any plant matter is fished out of your bucket of water before using it to flood the ice. Others use a hose and some others just prefer to carry a bucket at a time from the house or garage. Any of these options will work, it’s simply a matter of what works best for you!
Spread the water evenly over the top of the exposed, snow-free ice. It’s best to do this when the weather is cold and windless. Let the new surface freeze overnight. Repeat this process at least 3 days but as many as 5. If your rink is used for hockey, you may find yourself putting a fresh layer of new water down each night.
Every night?! Ain’t nobody got time for that…
… flood the rink with water. Rather than use a sprayer nozzle, which can cause a pitted and rough ice from all the water droplets hitting the surface, let the water flow directly from the hose and allow it to evenly cover the entire rink.If possible, use warm water to flood the area. Just like in a Zamboni, the warm water melts the surface of ice, correcting imperfections and allowing it to freeze smoothly. You can either fill buckets with warm water from your bathtub and slowly pour the water over the ice, or you can use an outdoor faucet with a thermostatically controlled hose, like a Thermo-Hose™, to keep water flowing out to the pond.
To take this photo, I stood on the edge of the pond; our fire pit is in the foreground and the house is in the back. The outside water faucet is to the right of the lower level window there…that is a LONG way to try to drag hoses in the ice and snow.
I haven’t had the time to look too carefully at this site, but I have a feeling it’s going to be very useful:
Anyway, we are determined to make it skateable, so I’ll be posting updates and tips as we learn by trial and error how to do this! We don’t live in a neighborhood, but we’re planning to invite people over for a skating party bonfire like this one I saw on Pinterest:
Now if only I can get Philip to lay an electrical cable out to the pond next summer so we can string lights over the rink next winter like Rita’s father always did.