Ice, Ice Baby!

Here at our super, top-secret parks and recreation test facility (otherwise known as my back yard) we’ve been working to perfect our temporary ice rink construction techniques. This four-year project — engineered by me and constructed with the help of my nine-year-old son, seven-year-old daughter, five-year-old daughter and occasional help from my dad and father-in-law — has featured virtually no logical thought and speed has always taken priority over success. So, I guess you’re warned.

That being said, I’m happy to report that yes, Virginia, you can build a great temporary ice rink in Ohio. Here are my findings and step-by-step instructions should you be crazy enough to follow my advice.

Step 1 – Find a Level Spot

In my experience, this has been the most challenging part of the ice rink process. Our first test site (my former backyard) offered a fairly level space running horizontally along my house – which meant stray pucks were less likely to hit my siding (and more likely to hit my neighbor’s shed).

Our current site is basically the side of a hill. Well, actually it’s a small slope designed to drain water away from my house and into the retention basin along the back property line. The first two seasons we used this site, I tried to make due with the land as it was. I ended up with four inches of water in the shallow end and over 30 inches of water in the deep end. Obviously, this is not optimal. It forces you to fight nature – and, in this battle, nature always wins. No matter how much work you put into bracing the walls in the deep end, the expanding ice sheet is just too strong and the walls bend, bow and threaten to collapse.

So, this year, we leveled our chosen spot during the fall allowing for four inches of water in the shallow end of our rink and only 12 inches of water in the deep end. We needed to keep the surface sloped for drainage purposes.

I’m assuming, if you want to build a temporary ice rink in your community this won’t be as big of a challenge.

Points to consider:

1. The flatter the better. (If you don’t have a flat area, then make one. Trust me, you’ll be much happier in the long run.)

2. Make sure it is near a water source. You’ll need to fill the rink initially and resurface it regularly when its being used. (More on this later).

3. Grassy area or unused basketball or tennis court? Either one works fine, but the method I use (custom step stakes and four foot plywood walls – so hockey pucks and out-of-control kids and parents have a barrier) is designed for grassy areas.

4. The bigger the better. Our rink is 25 feet wide by 45 feet long and is quickly clogged with only six kids skating.

5. Remember, you have to let the water loose in the spring, so pay attention to where the water will drain when you take the rink down. (Don’t ask me or my neighbor’s how I know this.)

6. Orient the rink so stray pucks (if you’re allowing hockey to be played) won’t hit passing cars, nearby buildings, old ladies out for a stroll, etc.

7. Parking. Keep in mind you will need parking nearby.

8. Visibility. Since this is a seasonal venture patrons might not know it exists. The more visible the location the more it is likely to get used. For example, our city built a nice temporary rink last winter. The rink was near plenty of parking on an old basketball court next to a major road. The only thing missing was a big sign –so that’s something to consider as well.

Step 2 – Install the Walls

Once you have your site picked out and leveled, you need to install your walls. I’ve learned that you’ll need to do this before the ground freezes which is generally before Thanksgiving here in Ohio and you’ll want at least two feet of wall (more is better) above the water line to contain pucks and skaters. For me, that meant four-foot walls.

In the past, I’ve used ½ inch, pressure treated plywood to build my walls. But, going forward, I’m using the new thermo-formed plastic boards made by NiceRink ( because they make it easier to build radius (rounded) corners, they’re lighter and store easier than big sheets of plywood.

In fact, I now use the complete NiceRink system for my rink. It includes wall brackets, thermo-formed plastic boards (walls), a specially designed liner (puncture resistant and grass friendly), bumper caps for the tops of my walls and kick plates for the liner.

There are a few temporary ice rink suppliers out there (see sidebar), but the one I’m most familiar with because I use their stuff is NiceRink.

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