November 26, 2013

From NEHJ: Alternatives to do-it-yourself outdoor ice rinks

By Jesse Connolly

Photo: Custom Ice Rinks

Nothing derails your outdoor rink quite like a warm winter. With uncooperative weather comes a shortened outdoor skating season, but there are a few ways you can create that experience without depending on your trusty thermometer.

“Everybody starts with the liner and loves the idea, then they realize they’re only getting four to eight weeks of half-decent skating weather,” Custom Ice Rinks’ Glenn Winder said. “Then they’re looking at water half the time or refixing it because of rain or snow. It gets frustrating. … These people would automatically say, ‘Hey, how can I extend the season?’

“The beauty of the refrigerated ice rink is there are two types. There’s the rollout portable rink that starts at $25,000. You basically have a flat level surface in your backyard, the same spot you’d put your liner rink. You’d build your liner rink the same way, and then we’d just put cooling pipes inside that liner rink. It hooks up to a chiller and you can skate four to five months at temperatures 50-degrees Fahrenheit or less. You can start your season earlier and you can extend your season longer.”

While $25,000 is a considerably bigger price tag than an entry-level, do-it-yourself backyard kit, Winder said to think of it as a year-round investment.

“To me, if you are serious about hockey and you really want to enjoy it as a sport in your backyard, refrigeration is going to give you that joy for four to five months,” said Winder, who estimates the average refrigerated rink is in the $68,000-75,000 range. “If you compare the cost of a refrigerated ice rink to a pool, people will put a pool in and not think twice about it and only swim two to three months for the same price.

“The other nice feature we have is a permanent rink in concrete, and basically we embed the pipes in concrete. That concrete slab in the summertime can be used as a basketball court, for playing inline hockey on, you can set up volleyball nets. You can use it as a 12-month sports service. That would be the equivalent to putting a concrete pool in your backyard. You get a great return on your investment.”

Pace Landscaping, based in western New York, presents another option for consumers. A landscaping company in the spring, summer and fall, Pace switches gears when the winter arrives. In addition to building your traditional backyard rinks, they also work in conjunction with Can-Ice, a company helmed by Michael McGraw and Buffalo Sabres legend Danny Gare that makes synthetic ice.

“The outdoor ice rink is a lot less expensive, but it depends on their intention,” Mike Pace said when asked which direction he’d steer a new customer in. “If they have children in that 6- to 10-year age range that want to get better, synthetic ice is a great, excellent training arena for them to skate, stickhandle and shoot any time they want. If you’re looking for just recreation, I think I’d go with the outdoor ice rink portion of it. We can build it and then Mother Nature is our refrigeration system, so you could have a great year, or you could have a year when you don’t get much use because it takes time for the rink to freeze. On the synthetic side, you could put it down and in 20 minutes you’re able to skate.”

Synthetic ice — which Pace said runs from 10 to 13 dollars per square foot — must be built on a hard, flat surface, but as long as you meet that requirement, you can place it anywhere, both indoors and outdoors. As for upkeep?

“Basically, you have to spray a glide-like substance on it intermittently, so really not very often,” Pace said. “There’s some maintenance but it’s extremely minimal.”

As for the utility costs for a refrigerated rink, that depends on both the weather and the size of your rink.

“It might be 25 to 35 cents per square foot per month, depending on where you are. That’s if it’s running constantly,” Winder said. “If the temperature is below freezing, the rink is thermostat controlled so it won’t be running at all. You could go a whole month and the refrigeration won’t turn on because it’s freezing outside.”

The downsides, so it seems, are quite hard to find for those considering making the jump to a refrigerated rink or synthetic ice.

“Tongue in cheek,” Winder said, “one of the negatives of our rink is if you don’t want all the neighborhood kids over, don’t buy one.”

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ