Inspired by his boyhood love of pickup hockey on frozen ponds, a New Hampshire dad creates a backyard ice rink.
build-your-own skating rink
My brother Paul grew up on Block Island, Rhode Island, where there were many ponds but little snow — so he and his friends skated whenever they wanted. That spontaneity was something he dreamed of for his children, Catherine and Peter, so Paul and his wife, Jane, built a 38×56-foot ice rink in their backyard in Kensington, New Hampshire.
Cover the ground with a tarp to protect the surface of the ice from rocks, roots, and sticks. For his first rink, Paul used a blue 40×60-foot construction tarp. Around it, he built walls from 2×6-inch framing lumber in 10-foot lengths. To reinforce the sidewalls, which would have to hold gallons of water, Paul used a simple construction technique: He made plywood gussets and attached them to 2×4-inch L-brackets, and then fastened these support units to the frame with sheetrock screws at about every 10 feet.
Over the past six years, Paul has refined his plan. He no longer uses a construction tarp; the blue color absorbed too much sun, so he’s turned to a white NiceRink liner, which wraps over the sidewalls. To guard it from tears by skates, hockey sticks, and pucks, Paul built an interior wall of plywood boards, which he painted white (to reflect sunlight). An effective barrier between skaters and liner, the boards are clamped to the frame with blocks. (Don’t use screws, as they’ll puncture the liner.)
Backyard Ice Rink Tips
- Pick a shady site so the ice doesn’t soften under the sun. Avoid building directly under overhanging trees, though, because branches, leaves, and other debris will cause surface melting and marring. Avoid your septic field, too: The weight of the ice may compact the ground, reducing percolation.
- For the system described here, the best time to start setting up is after a deep freeze, when the ground is hard, but before the first snowfall. (Otherwise, you’ll have to snowblow the surface before a good ice base is established.) If you’re using stakes, install them before the ground freezes.
- The rink should be near your water source. Drain your hose after everyuse, to avoid freezing and cracking.
- The downside of being close to the house is damage from flying hockey pucks. Check placement of the goals relative to windows and institute a “no lift” rule.
- There’s nothing better than nighttime skating, so consider the placement of your exterior lights. Paul complemented his porch and deck lights by attaching floodlights to the backyard swing set.
- Don’t forget the skate guards. You want to encourage even little ones to lace their own skates, so let them do so in the warm house while their fingers are still nimble. Keep skates and guards in a basket next to the door.
- As long as the liner doesn’t leak, your grass will be fine. Jane notes that the grass is always greener under the ice rink because it acts as a little incubator.
- The trick to a glossy surface is not spraying or aerating; water crystallizes fast, creating rough patches. Instead, Paul applies a layer of water and smooths it with a homemade resurfacing tool.
Genoa City, WI.888-642-3746;
(lumber, $105; liner, $324)
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