Get Out There
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Left Nothing beats a nighttime game of broomball at the Lees’ rink.
Right Eva Carlson and friend on her family’s homemade ice rink.
BACKYARD ICE RINKS
Bragging rights are on the line
Ideal ice thickness? Optimal temperature? The latest in resurfacing technology?
No, these are not conversations that will be taking place in NHL locker rooms this season, but rather as part of the ongoing debate that rages throughout the Wood River Valley every winter regarding backyard ice rinks.
While the concept of laying down some freezing water and plywood might strike most as an elementary affair, the truth, as told by practitioners and experts, seems closer to quantum physics than simple arithmetic.
“It’s all about the Visquene,” says John Lee, a Board Ranch resident and contractor who will be erecting a rink for the third year in a row as soon as the temperature drops.
Lee explains that the plastic sheeting used as the base of the rink must be greenhouse grade; otherwise, the water will leak out and create an uneven surface as it freezes.
Of course, like all aspects of backyard rink building, one person’s necessity is another’s extravagance. Just ask Dates Fryberger, a Minnesota native and member of the 1964 U.S. Olympic hockey team. He’ll be helping his daughter, Stephanie Carlson, build a rink in their
Ketchum backyard for the third year this winter.
“This is the old-timer’s way of doing it,” Fryberger says of his simple method of clearing snow off of the most level piece of ground, using the snow to build a border, and then flooding the interior.
The border also allows for variance and interpretation, with Lee recommending 2x6” or 2x8” boards to set the perimeter of the rink, with adequate depth to support an ice sheet several inches thick.
Both agree, however, that the creation of the ice surface is a process that requires care and preparation. Fryberger notes that beyond the seemingly obvious need for freezing weather, it’s imperative to flood the rink numerous times in order to ensure that each layer is completely frozen. If too much water is laid down at once, the result is what Fryberger describes as “shell ice,” with a thin surface of ice above air pockets and unfrozen water.
Lee learned this the hard way during an early attempt, ending with an ice sheet that had buckled in the middle as water pushed its way up through the bottom.
The work doesn’t end once the surface is laid, however, lots of maintenance is required. For, in the absence of vigilance, all the initial effort could end up for naught.
“If it’s snowing, you’re going to be in trouble and scraping off dog prints,” says Lee.
The continual shoveling led Lee to break down and purchase a snow blower to keep his sheet smooth. He also created a homemade Zamboni, constructed out of copper tubing, a hose for hot water and a towel attached at the back to sweep along the ice.
“It’s kind of a competition to see who has the best ice,” says Lee, who also plays on the backyard Valley rinks of both Pete and Gunnar Whitehead.
And while the rinks ostensibly cater to children learning to skate and play hockey, there is no dearth of entertainment for the adults.
Lee and his wife, Tracy, host an annual “broom ball party,” which attracts such an enthusiastic crowd that helmets must be provided to prevent (any more) concussions.
Of course, with the winter sun disappearing by mid-afternoon, Lee and many others have taken steps to allow the fun to continue into the evening; namely, the installation of floodlights, giving the rinks the appearance of baseball stadiums during night games.
It’s clear from Lee and Fryberger—along with a seemingly infinite number of plans on the Internet—that there is no one “correct” method for building an outdoor rink. But for those looking to construct some homegrown fun of their own this winter, make sure to include some unique extravagance. Bragging rights are at stake, after all.
Photography Craig Wolfrom
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