Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Backyard Ice Rink Project - Part 1

Hockey for me was an acquired taste; I never grew up around the game once. I do recall my father taking me to an Omaha Knights game at Ak-Sar-Ben when I was a kid, and occasionally we'd play hockey in the gym in our sneakers in elementary school, but that was it. It wasn't until that famous "worst-to-first" season for the Omaha Lancers in 1990 that I actually started to follow the sport to any sort of detail. And, of course, ever since UNO, my alma mater, started playing the sport, I've been a fan. But I've never played the game on ice; I can't even skate. (Roller or ice.)

As my son has grown, he's become more and more infatuated with the sport. He started as a toddler, using a kiddie golf club as a hockey stick. The grandparents picked up on it, and gave him a couple of kids' hockey sets, which he plays over and over in the kitchen and living room. But it wasn't until he attended a USA Hockey "Try Hockey for Free" event last winter that he'd made it onto the ice. And it was love at first skate; he had an absolute blast. When we left, he kept asking when he could go back to the rink again.

A week later, we had a nice sized snowstorm, and the inspiration was set. My wife's cousin had given us a couple pairs of old kids' ice skates, and I'd seen people building ice rinks in their back yard before. What have I got to lose?

So a day after the snow fell, I went into the back yard, and stomped down a patch of snow for a base, and shoveled some snow around the area for a frame.  First problem, the hose was froze solid.  So my backup plan was buckets of water hauled from the kitchen sink.  Which actually worked fairly well, because it poured evenly and slowly built up an ice surface.  A few buckets of water in the morning, a few more when I got home from work, and a few more  just before going to bed.  And slowly but surely, a rudimentary ice rink formed.

Very rudimentary, mind you.  The back yard slopes, and the drift at the low end leaked.  Most of the rink was an ice-covered snow crust with all of the bumps and ridges you'd expect.  Yes it sucked.

Didn't matter...the kids loved it.  So much so that after the first snowfall in November, my son asked if I could build him a rink.  Nevermind it was only about a half-inch in grassy areas, he wanted to skate again.

More importantly, I had been planning on "Rink 2.0" anyway, and it wasn't going to be dependent on snow.  (At least, that was my plan.)  Last year's snow base was barely functional; the leaves and grass burned through the ice and created a pathway for water to leak out.  So I ordered a white rink liner (essentially a big white tarp) from Blue Lake Plastics in Minnesota to be the base.  On Thanksgiving weekend, after the final yard mowing, I set out to frame the rink.  Surplus shelving from Menards became the boards at the "low end", held in place by garden spikes pounded into the ground. And then, I waited for cold weather, which arrived a week ago.  With snow in the forecast, I knew I had to act fast, so the rink liner went down the first Saturday of December.  And in went the water.

Because the temperature was hovering near 0, I couldn't get the outside faucet to work, so I had to run the hose from the bathroom to fill the rink.  (I'm sure my wife loved having the patio door gapping open two inches all afternoon for the hose.)  And the rink slowly filled in.  And then I found my first mistake: folding the excess tarp on top of the rink instead of underneath.  As the water poured in, the second layer of tarp floated up on top of the water.  Whoops.

Moving a cold tarp full of water in single degree weather is not a lot of fun, so I managed to fold the excess tarp underneath so I could resume the fill.  And voila, the rink slowly filled.  Until I found the next issue:  I didn't set the tarp high high enough on the boards or attach them.  I didn't want to put holes in the liner, so I didn't nail it in place, so it sagged and gapped...which let water spill over the sides.  So I stopped the pour and decided to think of alternatives.
Started out with a decent rink, though.  Three inches of snow overnight ensured that the rink was fairly well frozen in place, and gave me a solution to the water leaking over the edge of the tarp.  A combination of saran wrap along the boards to cover the opening between the boards and the tarp, then packed in place with snow, and then a little water to freeze it in place.  Not wanting to risk more leaks by resorting to the hose, I reverted back to last year's tried and true method of filling the rink: two three-gallon buckets.  While one fills in the kitchen sink, I take the other out to the rink and pour it out over the ice.  A very slow and painstaking process over the last week, but it's functional.  By this weekend, only two high spots remain on my rink.

To solve those, I take what snow is left and mix it with some water to create a slush mix that I packed into those high spots to protect the liner and allow some sort of skating to take place.  After that freezes, I can then pour water on those areas and build up some ice there as well.

And voila...by Monday afternoon, the rink appears to be finally ready.  Except Mother Nature has graced us with some 45 degree weather...which is bad for a rink.  Fortunately, it held pretty solid the first day.  I've cut back on adding water, because it's not going to freeze.  Over the weekend, I was dumping about 30 gallons of water 3-4 times a day, which built up a nice surface.  Now, I'm just hoping it stays fairly solid, and more importantly, doesn't leak out all over the backyard.

The forecast for the next couple of days is for temps in the 40's, dipping back below freezing at night.  That should mitigate any melting.  By later this week, and next week, colder weather should be back and allow me to finish pouring enough water to smooth out that rough area at the high point of the yard.  At the other end, the ice is a foot deep at that point, and the kids have already skated on it.

Will there be a Christmas backyard hockey game at my house?  That's the hope.  Stay tuned for more updates on the backyard ice rink project. So far, so good.

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