A 'Dad' Thing - Building a Skating Rink
Making a rink is a 'Dad thing', like wrestling with four foot high children and helping with physics homework. But unlike having a three year old wrapped around your head, making a rink will provide fun for your kids even when you're not at home.
One of a Dad's jobs is to teach his children how to be adults. 'Dad things' use play to show children how to do hard things. Things like planning, patience, co-ordination, exertion and teamwork. Like making a rink.
A rink project has to be planned, and worked at over time before you get any fun out of it. When it's done, your kids will have learned that they can build something. Some Dads use organized sports to do this, or Scouts, camping or wood working. For our family and where we live, a rink was just more obviously necessary and easier to obtain than those other things.
Rink Building in Three Simple Steps.
1. Make a Base.
Make a Base
The most important part of building a rink is the base. You have to have a good base or when you start to flood, the water will just run away over the ground. Fallen snow is mostly air spaces. Water from your tap will just flow straight through it. A Base is a solid mass of frozen slush that will not melt when flooded.
Choose an area of your yard (not over the septic tiles! A rink surface will drive the frost level down a couple of feet) that is fairly level. The rink will not wreck your grass, so it can be anywhere that's easy to reach with the hose. Late in the fall cut the grass short. Wait until four to six inches of snow has fallen and a good cold night is predicted. That afternoon hook up the hose to your garden tap and get everybody dressed and outside.
Then section by section, wet the snow until it splashes when you stomp it. Mix and pack the snow with your boots until it is evenly wet and fairly smooth, then move on to the next section. The kids can speed up the job by loading the smaller ones on a toboggan and dragging it back and forth over the slushy snow. If they fall off, they will be wet and unhappy. Before long everyone will be very unhappy with you, but keep them at it. Twenty by forty is a good size, but even a town house backyard has enough space for a rink. Mom can go in early with the baby to make hot chocolate.
One year, when just enough snow had fallen, a short thaw and rainfall had the snow completely saturated and the forecast was for a hard freeze that night. We packed and smoothed the base by driving the car back and forth over it. It made the best base we've ever had. Another year, when the Christmas holidays were nearly over and there still wasn't enough snow, I sprayed water a half an hour at a time to build thin layers of ice on the bare ground. It didn't make as good a rink, but it was better than no rink at all.
Then let the base freeze. It might take a few nights. After the first night, go out again with the hose and a shovel to patch the holes that have appeared in the base. Shovel snow from the rest of the yard into the holes, wet it and pack it down as before.
Flooding will build up the layers of skateable ice, smooth out any bumps and footprints and make you look like a hero. Your kids at this point are convinced that you freeze tortured them for your own amusement and that frozen mess on the front lawn will never be a rink.
The objective in flooding is to get a lot of water onto the surface quickly, and letting it freeze quickly. You need a very cold night, black with a clear cold sky. Dress warmly in everything you have.
You can flood using a hose without a nozzle, moving it back and forth over the base. Don't let it pour on any spot too long or the water will melt a hole straight through your base. Any kind of sprayer or nozzle slows the water down too much and clogs with ice. Then it drips cold water down your wrist.
The method we've developed is faster and less painful. We use buckets. We have big 5 gallon paint buckets left over from building the house, but smaller buckets would work just as well. The cold water bathtub tap fills them quickly and we form a bucket brigade from the bathroom through the house, out the front door and onto the lawn. At this point the base is too weak to walk on, so the buckets-full are thrown over the ice, not poured in one spot.
One night of flooding will probably not build up a thick enough layer of ice. Three or four is more likely. The last night of flooding, do a little magic. Use slightly warm water. The warmer water will melt a thin layer of ice as it flows across the surface, and in the morning you will have a smooth almost shiny perfect skating surface. And maybe it'll even be Saturday so you can watch your kids enjoy the first skating of the season.
The ice surface needs to be maintained. The children's skating practices and games will scratch the ice, and fallen snow sticks to the surface. Re-flood with warm water occasionally and keep it shoveled clear of snow. The kids can shovel with their skates on. When the snow banks get too high, our neighbor comes over with his snow blower.
My wife tells me that in January and February, the children put on their skates as soon as they get home from school and skate until dinner time. When I drive up, they're spinning and whirling around on our front yard. Their cheeks are red and they're covered with snow. 'Daddy, Daddy, see how fast I can go!'
As I said, it's a 'Dad thing.'
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This article was first published in the Advent 1995 issue of Nazareth: A Catholic Family Journal.