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Posted: January 2, 2016

Outdoor rink worth the work

By Julie Brannigan

In my neighbourhood the skating pond is an integral part of our winter culture and tradition, but maintaining it is a royal pain in the butt (and the lower back).

JB skating partySome years the weather cooperates with a pure, crystal clear freeze before the snow falls, making it easy to maintain the ice until the weather warms. This year we haven’t been so lucky. Every time we clear the hockey rink sized surface it snows before it freezes, turning the ice into a bumpy, dangerous mess.

When the ice freezes like this - covered in hoar frost instead of snow, it's a beautiful thing! Photo courtesy Alex Kosztinka
When the ice freezes like this – covered in hoar frost instead of snow, it’s a beautiful thing! Photo courtesy Alex Kosztinka

Transforming the pitted surface is a job that requires volunteers who aren’t afraid of hard work, and the following items:

1. Shovels and Snowblowers – When the snow is deep and heavy manpower isn’t enough to clear our large pond.  The trick is to shovel snow towards the edges and use the snowblower to move the row once it’s too heavy to push. The shovels can’t be abandoned altogether because you need to scrape the ice clean.

Light from the quad illuminates Rick O'Neill as he floods the rink with a fire hose.
Light from the quad illuminates Rick O’Neill as he floods the rink with a fire hose.

2. Ice Auger – Why not use the water that’s under your feet?  A hand or power auger cuts a nice hole in the ice too small for anyone to fall through but big enough to pump water out of.  It’s also useful for checking the thickness of the ice.

3. Pump – Obviously, we need a machine to get that water out from under the ice.  This year we got our hands on a powerful gas model, but we’ve also used a smaller electric pump.

4. Hose – This can be a garden hose or a heavy duty fire hose, depending on the size of your pump and the amount of water you want to put on the ice.  (It helps if the hose isn’t full of holes – the men were soaked through when they came in last night!)

Tom, Sarah and Julie use the home made 'Zamboni' to put a thin layer of water on the ice.
Tom, Sarah and Julie use the home made ‘Zamboni’ to put a thin layer of water on the ice.

5. Home Made Zamboni – This is the kicker!  A few years ago my husband Tom and my Dad Al engineered a man powered Zamboni using plastic piping and felt.  It’s a simple, effective device that lays down a thin layer of water for a smooth, beautiful skating surface.

Since Dec. 19, eastside residents have been pooling their resources and energy to get the ice in tiptop condition for the holidays. We shoveled, snow-blowed and flooded on Monday, only to have it snow again.

Today we shoveled, snow-blowed and flooded again, and the temperature dropped to -7 degrees so we have high hopes for success!  Without the pond in good working order it won’t seem like winter.

Megan sweeps her brother Justin down the ice at last year's New Year's Eve party.
Megan sweeps her brother Justin down the ice at last year’s New Year’s Eve party.

There’s always skating on Boxing Day, and the pond is the focal point of our New Year’s Eve bonfire party.  Last year we hosted a ‘pond curling’ event, complete with sweepers and painted targets.  Our makeshift rocks blew up in the cold so we resorted to using the children (on their sleds) as rocks.  They loved it!

This year we’re contemplating a larger than life 10 pin bowling match!  The kids, mounted on their sleds, will once again be hurled down the ice, this time intent on taking out as many ‘pins’ as they can.  The informal planning committee thinks plastic two litre bottles filled with water and glow sticks will make visually pleasing and effective pins.

Do you have any tips for maintaining a natural, outdoor ice surface, or ideas for fun outdoor games safe enough for a bunch of adults who have had a little too much wine?

Lead image: The author attempting to wipe out her girls during a modified game of crack the whip. (Or maybe Erin was trying to wipe her out – it’s hard to tell!).

Julie BranniganJulie Brannigan is a working mother of two who has lived at River’s Crossing since 2012 in a home designed to include a sun-filled suite for her parents. With nature out the door and ‘Granny Nanny’ and Grandpa across the hall from Julie and her husband Tom, she says she can’t ask for more.


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