On Frozen Ponds

I first learned about the web series On Frozen Ponds from another backyard ice rink website/blog about a year ago.  The background is that a film crew from the National Geographic Channel traveled up to New Hampshire to shoot some footage at last year’s New England Pond Hockey Classic on Lake Winnipesaukee, NH, but the footage never ended up being used in whatever program they intended.   A few of the crew didn’t want to let that footage die and still wanted to tell the tale of what they experienced that weekend.  Accordingly, when I first heard about the project, the producers were in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to fund further work on their film intending to capture the spirit and culture of outdoor/pond hockey.  It seemed like a neat idea so I chipped in a few dollars not knowing if they’d come anywhere close to receiving what they needed to continue their efforts.   Nearly a year later, I get an email from the producers announcing that their film will be airing in late January.  Turns out that they exceeded their funding requirements by several thousand dollars, so the filming/editing continued into this year and the following four episode web series is the result.   The first of four episodes aired last night (January 21st) and the remaining three will air in the coming weeks.

Episode 1:

Episode 2:

Episode 3:

Episode 4:

Episode 4: A Classic Finish from On Frozen Ponds on Vimeo.


Stroke of genius or completely hosed?

For many years I’ve had a 100′ length of heavy duty rubber hose that I’ve used to resurface my rink.   In our former house, I had a huge utility room connected to my garage where I could store the hose reel to keep it warm and unfrozen between resurfacings.   When we moved 3 years ago, I lost my utility room and now only have a small entryway/closet area by the back door where I’ve been trying to keep my hose reel all warm and toasty 4-5 months out of the year.    Unfortunately, the new area barely has enough room for a couple of shoe-trays and with a hose reel crammed in as well, there is little room to maneuver- not to mention the place is always filthy due to tracking in melting snow and dripping hoses.

This past summer, I bought one of those green “Pocket Hose” expanding hoses you can find at your local home improvement or WalMart/Target store to keep on my boat where it worked very well for washing off the deck yet stored easily in a small compartment when not needed.  I saw those same hoses on sale at Home Depot a couple of weeks ago and was curious if they would still work as well in colder temperatures- so I picked up two 50′ hoses and gave them a shot with my rink rake.


As with most “as seen on TV” products, they aren’t exactly industrial quality so I was somewhat skeptical that they’d work very well. First, I had a feeling that they wouldn’t expand/contract in the cold the same way they do in normal temperatures. Second, I was doubtful that the hose would stay flexible enough for wintertime use. I have to admit, though that after three weeks of use and approximately a dozen resurfacings, they’ve worked out great.

I’ve used them three times this week alone with temps in the -5 to 5 degree F range and they expand and contract fully, the same as they do in the summer and also remain just as flexible, actually more flexible even than my rubber hose. The flow rate is somewhat less than a normal 5/8″ diameter garden hose, but there is still more than enough pressure to put down a nice even layer of water with the homeboni. The hoses are incredibly light and scoot across the top of the ice much more easily than heavy rubber hose. I can loop excess lengths of hose easily around my shoulder as I work my way back towards the spigot. When I’m done, I disconnect both ends of the hose and the Pocket Hose shrinks back down to a roughly a quarter of its fully expanded length such that both hoses as well as my resurfacing towel now fit easily in a 5 gallon bucket, which saves quite a lot of space (and mess) in my cramped entryway.

Online reviews of the same hose have been less than stellar due to reports of cheap construction, leaks, and blow-outs, but so far mine have held up well. The plastic fittings of the hoses certainly get fragile and brittle in the cold weather so care must be taken not to step on, drop or over-tighten the fittings, but so far I have no complaints for light-duty resurfacing. At 1/4 the cost and a fraction of the size and weight of an equal length of heavy-duty rubber hose, they are certainly an option worth trying on anyone’s backyard rink.

Lightweight expanding "Pocket Hose" in action on a -3F degree morning

Lightweight expanding “Pocket Hose” in action on a -3F degree morning

Some Thoughts on the NiceRink system

I can’t believe that it is already nearly Thanksgiving, which means the start of a new skating season at the Edgewater Ice Garden is just around the corner.   We’ve been fortunate enough to be blessed with slight a head-start on winter here in the Twin Cities, so I have spent the past couple of days frantically trying to get the last of the fall yard work completed and the rink all set up in order to flood this weekend.   If all works out, this will be the earliest skating I’ve had in the nine years that I’ve been maintaining  outdoor ice.

With that, I thought that  I’d take some time this afternoon while the rink is slowly filling outside my office window to enjoy a cold Summit Octoberfest and mention the NiceRink bracket/board system that I use to build the EIG.    For the record, I am in no way affiliated with NiceRink and this isn’t some shameless plug for which I get some sort of magical discount or benefit in any way other than the fact that I have been a customer for the past 4 years and, in my opinion, they make a great product.

Most backyard rink enthusiasts are at least familiar with the NiceRink brand, whether or not one uses their system.  Additionally, anyone even remotely interested in building a backyard ice rink will surely stumble the NiceRink website  near the top of any web search-so there’s no point in me describing in any great detail the line of products that they offer.    Suffice it to say, they offer a myriad of products geared towards building and maintaining a backyard rink or hockey pond.

The heart of their system is comprised of black ABS plastic “brackets” which are triangular in shape and have two spikes on the bottom that are pushed/pounded into the ground approximately every four feet.   These brackets have a channel that hold their NiceRink boards, which are molded white plastic (18″h x 48″l  x 1″w) impact-resistant boards over which your rink liner is placed to contain the water for the rink.   The boards have hinged peg/slot connectors on each end so that they interlock and can be positioned to accommodate nearly any size or shape of rink.    If you run with one of their  higher-tier packages, you also receive plastic kick-plates that go over your liner to protect it from sticks/skate blades and yellow “caps” (think 8′ pool noodle with a slit along the bottom) that secure your rink liner to the board and provide some cushioning as well.  Again, see their website for more information and pictures as I really only want to offer my pros/cons and some tips I’ve learned using their rink system for the past several years


  • Easy to set-up.   If you follow their instructions (DVD instructional video included with purchase), the rink is extremely easy to set-up and tear down.   I actually timed myself last week when putting the rink up and it took me, working alone, right around two hours to prep the site, assemble the boards, and spread the liner.   15 minutes to measure/mark the site, 1:18 to put up the brackets & boards, and 27 minutes to spread/secure the liner.   The time-lapse video above shows how easy these things are to set-up.
  • Lightweight.   My rink components spend the off-season sitting up in the rafters of my garage.  The plastic brackets and boards are light enough to stack and certainly weight less than do it yourself 2×4 brackets and plywood boards of similar size.
  • Durable.   This was a concern of mine over going with my own wood boards or metal brackets.   I wasn’t sure how the plastic components would hold up in the cold and over multiple seasons.   The ABS brackets are tough and as long as you pound them in with a rubber mallet per their instructions (they show you where you should strike each bracket if needed) then they will give you years of use.   I have close to 60 brackets holding up my rink and in 4 seasons of use, think I’ve broken one corner off of one of the brackets and that was my own fault for not hitting it squarely as I was pounding it in.   The boards are seemingly indestructible and not one has cracked from the cold or a puck impact, nor have any warped from 90+ degree heat in the summers as they swelter in the rafters of my detached garage.  The plastic boards will not ever need to be painted and they won’t rot or delaminate over multiple seasons of use like plywood boards eventually would.
  • Self-leveling.   The 18″ boards and brackets can accommodate up to 14″ water with no additional support.   My rink slopes approximately 9″ from the shallow corner to the deep corner and the boards handle this slope with no problem at all.    The brackets are actually able to accommodate more water with additional bracing, but eventually you’d have to use plywood or some other type of board since the NiceRink boards are only 18″ tall.   You could easily use a combination of plastic board and plywood as needed to form your rink with the same ABS brackets.
  • Great customer service.   The folks at NiceRink are passionate about backyard ice and stand behind their products.  If you have questions about anything, they are only a phone call, text, email, or Facebook post away.


  • Price.   As usual, you get what you pay for.   A NiceRink system is going to run you more than cutting your own boards out of plywood and/or crafting your own 2×4 brackets.   That being said, if you can afford to spend the extra $$ on one of their rink packages, in my opinion, it is well worth it.   You could also start out with just the brackets and do your own plywood boards, then add NiceRink boards, kick plates and bumper caps later as time goes by, but as usual, if you buy the whole package at once, you save money.
  • Extremely sloped yards.   The NiceRink system handles gradual slopes seamlessly, however, some people are obviously going to have more than a 10-12″ slope to their yard. Although you can cut your own plywood boards to accommodate those portions of your rink, I really would like to see NiceRink come out with a taller white plastic board that would be an option for deeper rinks.   Also, even with no slope would be nice to have the option to go with a taller board behind your goals to better contain pucks.
  • “Standard” kick plates.   I mentioned above that some NiceRink packages come with 8′ sections of plastic kick plate that run around the inside of your rink (at ice level) to protect your liner.   Their standard kick plates are 6″ tall and are secured to your boards with small screws every two feet or so.   Since you are using the kick plate to protect the liner from nicks or cuts, it seems silly to have to puncture the liner to screw in the kick plate.   Granted, the kick plates sit above the ice level and if you screw them in along the top of each plate, you shouldn’t have holes anywhere near the waterline of your liner.   However, if you plan to use your liner over again next year, you have to be extremely careful to make sure that you have your liner positioned precisely before AND during the fill/freeze process to avoid having any of those tiny screw holes sag down below the water line.     If you’re talking about manhandling a 40 x 90 or larger liner to make sure it is aligned perfectly within 6″ of where it was the previous season(s), then it is much harder than it seems.       NiceRink does make a new “premium” kick plate that is a full 15″ tall and is designed to hook over the top of your boards and extend all the way down below the water level without being screwed in so will put no holes in your liner.   I’d stay away from the standard kick plates if you plan to re-use your liner and spring for the premium kick plates if at all possible.  If you opt for a cheaper, single-season liner then it won’t matter.


  • Don’t blow off the prep work!  The NiceRink installation instructions/video will tell you how to measure and mark out the outline of your rink before you start pounding in the brackets.    Take the time to do it right and make sure your dimensions are all correct and that your corners are square.   This makes the actual install process much easier than getting down to the last couple of brackets/boards and finding out that you are a few inches off.   The old “measure twice, cut once” concept applies.    I’ve actually marked my rink with permanent corner markers (landscape spikes that I painted fluorescent orange) to save a bit of time locating my corners every fall, but I still take the time to measure and mark the entire rink out every season, per their instructions.
  • Get the brackets and boards up early if you can.   Pounding in the brackets before the ground freezes is very beneficial.   If you can do it after a light rain/mist while the ground is soft all the better.   Just had a day like that last week when I put my boards in and most of the brackets pushed right in with foot pressure only without needing any additional help from my rubber mallet.
  • Single season liner.   I’m not sure it is worth spending the extra $$ on a multi-season liner.    I’ve decided that I’m going to buy a cheaper liner and replace it every season.   If space is an issue, rolling up and storing a big liner at the end of the season is a real pain.   They are heavy and never roll up anywhere near as compact as they come new.   Also shop around for plastic liners, there are a lot of places (depending where you live) that will sell you 6-mil bulk liners for cheaper than you can buy/ship them from NiceRink.   That being said, I’d stick with a white liner (all of NiceRink’s liners are white) vice clear as the dark ground showing through a clear liner will absorb the sun’s light a lot more than a pure white liner and your ice should freeze sooner/melt later than with a clear liner.
  • Firecracker sale!   As I’ve said, NiceRink products are quality, but aren’t exactly cheap.    If you plan ahead, however, they offer a great deal every year around 4th of July.   You typically get an additional 10% off on top of their usual early bird 5% discount (the 5% applies to orders prior to 1 Nov), which will save you quite a bit on $2,000+ rink package or even a new rink liner.  Sign up for their email newsletter via their website and you’ll get an email from them in time to catch the sale.

Let’s face it.   If I had unlimited space in my yard, then I’d have built a permanent rink with 4′ boards, player benches, full backstops and a warming house.  However, most of us don’t have that kind of space and actually need our back yards to be yards in the off-season, so portable/temporary rinks are our only option.     I have no regrets about spending the money on my NiceRink package and would gladly recommend them to anyone else that is considering one.



Say Cheese!

Well, I think we all know by now that no good can come from me having a week off in the middle of January.   That is how the tractor zamboni was born last year, so I think my wife was a little scared each evening wondering what she’d find when she got home from work that day.

I dutifully completed all of my errands and honey-do items early in the week and inevitably found myself pulling into the parking lot of Best Buy one morning armed with a shiny new gift card.    After wandering aimlessly through the aisles for a bit, I ran across one of those little GoPro video cameras.   I’m a sucker for shooting video footage at work and on vacation and then turning the raw footage into cheezy home movies.  Accordingly, I thought the GoPro might be a fun gizmo take on vacation next summer, as well as various other fishing and work trips- so into the cart it went.

In addition to the Best Buy gift card, I also accumulated six unwanted pounds over the holidays.  As a result,   I’ve been trying to get out on the rink for at least an hour each day in an effort to burn off some of those Christmas cookies.   So naturally, armed with a new toy, I had to find a way to try it out.   I slapped the GoPro in its impact resistant case and straight out to the rink the camera and I went.

I clipped the little camera in various locations around the rink for 3 or 4 skating sessions and and ended up with a pile of video that lent itself to another in my collection of cheezy home videos.   A couple of hours editing the footage on the iMac and presto, another home movie cluttering up my hard drive!

I’ll say two things for that little GoPro camera.   First:  The camera (or more specifically it’s impact-resistant case) is tough!  Mistakenly nailed it with a wrist shot, sending it flying across the net and spinning around on the ice a few times- not a scratch on the thing and kept filming the whole time.   Second:  Whatever sport or hobby you are into, the thing clearly works magic.   A few of the clips actually make me look like a halfway decent hockey player.   No easy task for this aging, has-been (or more likely never-been), rec. league player.

Anyway, back to work this week.   Just as well as it looks like today’s high will hover around -5F.   I’ve never been one to puss out and avoid the cold, especially on a skate-able day, but with 20+ knots of wind to boot, think I’d lose an extremity or two out there today.

Hockey Day at EIG

Video: Hockey Day Minnesota at the EIG

Exit Strategy

I have received a couple of requests for more information on how I made the removable “gate” section of my side boards through which I can get my snowblower and lawn tractor out onto the rink.

For many rink builders who construct their own boards out of plywood or 2″x12″ lumber, including a hinged section of board to use as a door/gate should be pretty straight forward since you are fabricating your own side boards.  For others, like myself, that use the plastic prefabricated NiceRink boards, a little more thought was involved as their interlocking board system does not readily lend itself to having a built-in gate to get larger equipment out on the rink.   What follows is how I chose to tackle the problem.  I am most certain that there are plenty of other ways to accomplish the same thing, but for those looking for ideas or a point to start from, this has worked for me the past three seasons.

Construction of my gate required one 2′ x 4′ section of half-inch plywood, a dozen or so 3/4″ wood screws and (if desired) some white exterior latex paint.

To start with, I installed the whole enclosed NiceRink Board system and my liner without any modifications and flooded the rink to the desired depth.    Once the rink froze solid, I then could easily determine the depth of  ice that existed at the point where I wanted to install the gate.  Waiting until the ice froze solid also let me more easily remove one 4′ section of plastic NiceRink board without the liner bulging out in the removed section as it would if the boards were still supporting unfrozen water.

You can refer to the included cutting diagram, but the single sheet of plywood was then cut into five pieces.   The largest two pieces formed the removable gate and the base upon which the gate sits, and the three smaller pieces were used as tabs on the back of the gate section to hold it in place.

Gate Diagram

Once the desired section of NiceRink board had been removed, I measured from the ground to the top of my ice surface.   In my case, I have 4″ of ice at the point where I chose to install the gate.    I added 1″ of additional height to accommodate more ice buildup from any freezing rain and resurfacing layers throughout the season and made my first cut at 5″ (x dimension in my cutting diagram) across the length of the plywood sheet.   This resulting 48″ x 5″ piece serves as the base upon which the gate sits.   This piece was slipped behind the back of the rink liner and seated in the NiceRink Brackets, in place of the section of plastic board that was removed.

Since the NiceRink boards are 18″ tall overall, the main portion of the gate was then cut at 13″ (y dimension in my cutting diagram) so that the gate, when sitting on the base, matches the height of the NiceRink boards on either side of it.

The remaining strip of plywood was then cut into three other pieces.  The longest was screwed to the back of the gate portion with about 3″ of overhang off the bottom of the gate.   This helps align and seat the gate section on top of the base section.  The two smaller tabs were likewise screwed onto the back of the gate section with about 3″ of overhang off of either side to prevent the gate from falling through the gap in the boards and onto the ice surface.

Since the “base” of my gate was only 5″ tall, the gate portion, when slid into position is still supported from behind by the two NiceRink brackets, which are ~9″ tall.   This prevents the gate section from falling backwards onto the ground.   Should you have a significantly higher ice level or shorter brackets, you might need to add a couple of wood “tabs” to the front side of your gate as well to help hold it in place when seated.

Once the gate was test-fit and everything appeared to be working correctly, I then had to cut my rink liner to match the “hole” created for the entry/exit point.   I cut the plastic liner, leaving a little excess on each side that I could fold over the edges of my stationary boards and secured the excess with some white vinyl/duct tape to prevent the cut liner from flapping in the wind or getting caught by a passing shovel/stick.    Over the portion of the liner that was wrapped down over the top edge of the “base” board, I added a few extra layers of vinyl tape where it was exposed to foot/tire/wheel traffic just as an added layer of protection from punctures and tears.

One note about cutting the required notch out of your rink liner– If you plan to use the same liner for multiple seasons, then it will take some time to get the liner positioned correctly when you roll out the liner next season.   Getting the liner cut-out lined up perfectly with the gate section of my boards this fall took quite a bit of tweaking and adjusting before I got it lined up exactly. As you know, working with 2,000+ square feet of plastic sheeting flapping in even a slight breeze can be difficult to begin with.    Accordingly, from now on, I think I’m going to simply buy a new thinner (cheaper) single-season liner and simply cut out the entry/exit point after flooding the rink each year.

I had some additional scrap 3/4″ plywood in the garage and cut a 3′ x 3′ square piece  along with a length of 2×4 and to used those as a ramp that lets me roll the snowblower or drive the tractor right up to ice level.

There’s a few pictures included of the gate area of my rink that hopefully show the particulars better than I can describe them.

May not be the prettiest system, but I am now able to easily lift out the removable gate whenever I need to get out onto the ice with the snowblower and tractor zamboni, and can quickly re-seat the gate when I’m done to keep the pucks from scooting out into my yard.

Hope this helps any other NiceRink customers out there that need to get all their toys out on their rink!

Installed gate from outside

Installed gate from outside

Installed gate from front

Installed gate from front

Back of gate (removed)

Removed gate

Removed gate and ramp area

Winter is here!! (kind of)

A beautiful night for the first skate of the 2012-2013 season

A beautiful night for the first skate of the 2012-2013 season

After a long and hot summer here in the Twin Cities, we were treated with a brief glimpse of winter for the past 10 days.   Just enough time to get the rink boards up, liner installed, and flooded before a nice string of nights in the teens and days in the 20′s.   A backyard rink-er couldn’t ask for a better start to the 2012-2013 skating season.

Came home from a business trip Wednesday evening and managed to get in the first outdoor skate of the year yesterday (November 29th) .  In the 8 years I’ve been maintaining a rink, that is a new personal best by over a week!      Hopefully this portends of a great winter for skating.  Truth be told, however, nothing can be a pitiful as last winter – so even an “average” winter would be a welcome improvement.

Looks like I’ll be able to sneak in another skate today, but we’re due for a pretty significant warm-up over the weekend and first part of next week, so my smug victory lap will be short-lived.

In any event, the rink is up, the bar fridge is stocked with a couple cases of Summit Winter Ale, and the ceremonial first skate of the season has been accomplished.   Here’s to a great winter this year!

A little “hockey therapy”

A little reflection on the game of hockey  as I faced my 40th birthday last week. The “JMS hockey” I refer to is a local pick-up hockey league that hosts numerous games a week all over the Twin Cities area for players of all skill levels.


 I woke up yesterday morning (Feb 29th) as a brand new 40-year-old.   I like to think that I was above all of the traditional hype and trepidation about turning  40 and did my best to convince myself that it was just another birthday.   Truth be told, however, deep down I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of dread, and a desire to make the day at least slightly meaningful in some small way.   Unfortunately, although I had the day off, my wife was stuck in meetings all day and my two closest friends with whom I intended to toss back a few beers to mark the occasion were both out of town on business.  The absolutely dreary weather yesterday didn’t make things any better.   I woke up to find my backyard rink coated under a four-inch layer of slush and pretty much out of commission for the remainder of this pathetic excuse for a winter.   I spent the better part of an hour hand shoveling my driveway and sidewalks free of that same cursed layer of slush since it was too sloppy to run through the snowblower.   I then actually found myself sitting in my home office working on my taxes.   As noon approached, I realized that this was shaping up to be an especially miserable excuse for a birthday.   On top of it all, I was now afraid that I was going to have to cancel from my skate last night as our dinner plans got pushed back an hour and I didn’t think I’d be able to make it back across town in time.


I enjoy the JMS community sessions at Minnehaha Academy.   For one thing, it’s usually a fairly fast game with a fun group of players.   Even though it tends to be fairly Level 4 and 5 heavy, I think everyone does a particularly good job of trying to include the lower level guys and, from my impressions anyway, a good time is usually had by all.   On a personal note, I spent one year of Bantams and four years of High School playing in that frigid arena, so I really enjoy skating there again when the opportunity presents itself.   Not that we ever experienced any glory days particularly worth reliving at Minnehaha in those years; we were the perennial doormat of the old Tri-Metro Conference, but I had a lot of fun memories in that old barn nevertheless.    


By noon yesterday, my taxes were in the mail on their way to the accountant, a fresh layer of sleet/slush had resumed falling from the dreary grey sky, and now the realization that my evening’s hockey plans were likely going to fall by the wayside had me in a downright foul birthday mood.   I finally came to my senses and realized that I couldn’t just sit around an empty house at the computer all afternoon hosting a pity party for myself and planning my mid-life crisis.


I headed down to my basement/man cave, pried the cap off of one of the remaining bottles in my dwindling supply of Summit Winter Ale, made a big bowl of popcorn and figured I’d sit down and DVD or Netflix one of my favorite movies (you know, one of the ones you can recite every line from but you haven’t watched in years because your spouse rolls his/her eyes every time you suggest popping it in the DVD player).    As I was thumbing undecidedly through my collection, a plain uncased DVD in a simple white sleeve caught my eye and I pulled it out mostly out of curiosity.   The disk was a copy of the 1980 Miracle on Ice game that I had completely forgotten that I purchased off of ebay years ago, probably stuck on the shelf when it arrived in the mail, and never watched.      I remember watching that game “live” (though tape delayed) as it originally aired with my parents in our living room and I have always attributed that game as THE reason I wanted to start playing hockey as a child.   In fact, a little more than a week later, on my 8th birthday, my dad bought me my first hockey stick – a Christian (of course).    Anyway, although I’ve re-watched that game a few times since, I’m certain it had been at least 15 years since I last viewed it, so I slid the game in my DVD player.  You know what, Al Michaels’ famous call at the end still gets to me even after all these years.


With my birthday disposition now much improved, I was able to survive birthday dinner with the parents, and even managed to make it back across town (perhaps driving a bit faster than I should have on the wet/icy roads) in time to make it to the rink on time for JMS.  Skating out there on that ice last night was a perfect way to celebrate what remained of my birthday (and my fleeting youth).   The sights, sounds, and smells of that Minnehaha arena are still familiar to me even after 21+ years.  The hum made by those rows of overhead fluorescent lights, the seeping cold of those cinderblock walls even on the warmest day, and the slightly musty smell of that old wood barrel truss roof took me right back to my high school days.


I woke up this morning just 364 days away from turning 41 and although I admittedly awoke with few sore muscles, some stiff joints and one or two new bruises, for 90 minutes last night I was 18 again.

Ice Rink Speed Dating

Allright ladies….Sick and tired of the local bar/club scene?  The online services not panning out for you too well and you still want to meet a steady stream of men? — build an ice rink in your yard!

Despite the mild winter, I still find myself outside skating, shoveling or flooding the rink 3-4 afternoons/evenings a week.   In the 7 weeks I’ve had my rink in operation so far this season, I’ve already lost count of the number of guys who wander over while passing by on the sidewalk, or pull their cars over on the street and walk across the lawn to ask or chat about the rink.   Honestly, I’ve met more people that live in and around the neighborhood in the past 7 weeks than I have in the first 13 months we’ve lived in this house.

Throughout the ensuing discussions, I’ve met some “quality” guys with good stable jobs.  Off the top of my head, there has been an IT systems engineer, a college professor, a phys-ed teacher, and a medical resident at the University, just as a few examples.   Most, if not all, play hockey or at least skate themselves (so no overweight couch potatoes).

On the down side, most of them were already married with kids, so may not be available (though that may be negotiable depending on how nice/big your rink is).   However, if a 40 yr old straight dude like me that is carrying around about 10 extra pounds and a slowly receding hairline can meet guys, just think what an eligible bachelorette could attract to her rink!

So there you go ladies, ditch those knee high boots and mini-skirts for a pair of CCMs and flannel-lined jeans and watch the guys line up like moths to a flame.   You’ll be beating them away with your 80-flex Iginla curve Easton in no time.

Let there be light

The down side of having your own backyard rink is that, short of a $50,000 cooling system, your skating opportunities are really limited to 3-4 months of winter.   The problem with winter is that you generally only have 8 hours (or less) of daylight available during which to skate.   There are three solutions to this dilemma:

1.  Skate during the day.  Easy to do on holidays and weekends, but not as easy to pull off during the week.   Generally, your boss will only buy your feeble excuses for so long, and eventually your kids are going to need to go to school so they can grow up and get good jobs so they can support you in your old age.   The notable exception is if you intend for your son/daughter to use the extra daytime skating practice to make it to the NHL, in which case they can support you very easily regardless.   Kind of a calculated risk, but good on ya for the positive attitude.

2.  Skate day and night, even in the dark.   Certainly doable, and there is nothing quite a beautiful as skating on your rink/pond on a perfectly calm and quiet winter night under a clear starry sky.   Unfortunately, you tend to not see that crack in the ice and the edge of your rink can sneak up on you rather quickly as you zip about staring at the beautiful night sky leading to some nasty falls and bruised appendages.   It’s also maddeningly difficult to find those pesky black pucks in the dark.

3. Cheat the natural world by erecting enough lights so that you can turn night into day and have the aircraft overhead mistake your rink for their intended runway.  This way you can enjoy your rink just as easily at 2:00AM as you can at 2:00 in the afternoon.   Warning: studies have shown that enjoying your fully illuminated rink after midnight, could theoretically piss off your annoying neighbors who would rather sleep than play hockey.

Option 3 is the method selected by many backyard rink enthusiasts, so let’s run with that one…

The old standby for most rink night lighting purposes is the 500-Watt halogen work light.   Typically rugged, not terribly expensive, and available in nearly every hardware store, Wal-mart (and equivalents), or automotive supplier; the halogen work light can be used to flood your ice in a bath of warm yellowish incandescence.

A backyard rink staple: The 500W halogen worklight

The down side of the trusty 500-watt Halogen work light is right there in it’s name:  500 Watts.   On my previous rink, I used 6 500 watt halogen lights and they did their job, however I might as well have illuminated my rink with the warm glow of burning dollar bills as my electric bill was downright ugly on those months where the weather cooperated enough to be able to use the rink on a nightly basis.   Also, depending on how much illumination you need, you can very easily overload your circuits; unless you have a slew of available outdoor receptacles on separate circuits.

For a typical home with 20 Amp circuits, the max recommended continuous load on a circuit is 1920 Watts (120V x 20A x 80%).  Assuming the only thing powered by a given circuit is your rink lighting, you therefore “should” only be running 3-4 of those 500 Watt lights off of each circuit.   Thus, you’d need two separate 20A circuits available (with little or no other continuous loads on each circuit) to power your six halogen lights.

For the typical homeowner in a newer construction home, this may not be a problem.    How about those of us in older homes?  My current house is a 1936 Tudor and the majority of the circuits are 15A , which means I should only be running 1440 Watts continuous off of each circuit.   Again, being in an older home with older wiring, I was very hesitant to test the limits and overload any of my circuits/wiring.   Although I have two outdoor receptacles within easy reach of my rink, both are powered by the same circuit so I might as well only have the one receptacle.   To light my rink, I was going to need those same six 500 Watt work lights (3,000 Watts total) but now would have to split them up between 3 circuits (2 if I wanted to push it).

In pondering my situation, I ran across some fluorescent flood lights on Amazon that only draw 65 watts each.   According to the product description each light produces the same lumens as a 500W incandescent or halogen light, so in theory I would still only need six flood lights.  Plus, at only 65W each, I could easily run all six lights off of my one available 15A circuit with ample capacity to spare.  The downside was that the fluorescent lights were 50% more expensive than their halogen counterparts and the online reviews didn’t give me a warm fuzzy due to their plastic construction.   Additionally, I rarely find that the CFL bulbs in my lamps put out as much light as they claim, so I was also skeptical that six fluorescent lights would put out enough light.   While sifting through several pages of reviews on Amazon, I stumbled across a lone rave review from a buyer who, as it turns out, used four of the lights to illuminate his 40×60 backyard ice rink.   Trusting that a fellow backyard rink enthusiast wouldn’t steer me wrong, I took the plunge and ordered six of the lights.

Lights of America 65W fluorescent flood light (click for link to Amazon)

Once the lights arrived, now the question became how do I mount them?   Being that 2/3 of the year, my rink is actually my side yard, I needed a way to make the lights removable and easily storable for the offseason.   I also wanted the lights mounted as high up as possible and shining downwards to reduce any annoying and somewhat dizzying shadows caused by having the lights at body/head level.

As with many backyard rink dilemmas, PVC to the rescue.    My plan became to mount the lights on top of 12′ lengths of 2″ PVC and then strap the PVC poles to standard green u-channel fenceposts that I could pound in each fall and remove each spring.   The only challenge became how to actually affix the lights on top of the PVC poles.   The floodlights I purchased were mounted on a 4″ diameter round plastic base that was meant to be screwed directly into a vertical wall or on the flat underside of a roof eave.  Mounting them on a 2″ round piece of PVC either horizontally or vertically, wasn’t doable without some further modification.

 I came up with two possible solutions.   The first solution was to cut some 4″x4″ plywood “mounting pads” and screw or thru-bolt them to the side of the PVC pipe.   The second solution hit me as I was staring blankly at the wall of PVC fittings at my local Home Depot.   I found a 4″ round PVC floor drain that was designed to fit into either 2″ or 3″ PVC pipe.    By capping off my PVC pole with this 4″ floor drain, I could then screw or epoxy the 4″ round base of my floodlights onto the 4″ round face of the floor drain–in either case, problem solved.

2″ PVC floor drain (click for product link to Home Depot)

I  opted for the latter solution as, knowing how brittle PVC gets in the cold, was afraid that screwing into or bolting through the top end of the pipe might weaken it enough that a subsequent windstorm/blizzard might catch the wood  mounting pad and/or flood light and crack the PVC pole.

You can see the diagram I sketched out below for the details, but I snipped off the female plug end of a 16Ga outdoor extension cord and ran that up through each PVC pole, fishing the end up through the grate in the floor drain.   After using wire nuts to splice together the wires from the extension cord with the leads from the flood lights, I tucked the splice up into the base of the light and used a two part epoxy to glue the base of the light on to the flat face of the floor drain.

The assembled light poles were affixed to the six fence posts with stainless hose clamps, which when tightened down, hold the lights securely enough to not blow around too badly even in the highest winds.

Rink light assembly diagram (click for full size)

The three lights on each side were plugged into their own 3-outlet power stake (like they sell for holiday lighting displays) and one extension cord was run from each power stake to my outdoor receptacle.   One final touch was to plug each extension cord into an inexpensive wireless outlet control adapter so I can remotely turn on and off the lights with a little keychain device from inside the house.  It’s a nice little touch so I don’t have to tromp over to manually plug and unplug the extension cords to turn on/off the lights.  

Despite my initial reservations about the amount of light that these new fluorescent lights would produce, I actually am more than pleasantly surprised.   The light that they put out is a brilliant white (given a few minutes of warm-up time, same as CFL bulbs in your house) that I actually think I prefer to the yellowish light that my previous halogen bulbs produced.   My six lights are spaced roughly 20′ apart from each other and opposite each other on either side of the rink, which really helps to cut down on uneven shadows.

Overall, this is a project which worked out better than I anticipated.  In the offseason, I intend to hang the lights from brackets mounted up in the rafters of my garage so they are protected from damage and up out of the way.   Time will tell if the plastic light housings hold up from repeated seasons of use.

Edit- 11/30/2012:   Quite a few people have contacted me about and/or shared my rink light instructions so I wanted to update it a bit after a year’s experience using the lights.    Over the summer, a couple of the light bases came “unglued” from the PVC floor drains.   I suspect that stainless metal grate is a difficult surface to adhere to and if a plastic/pvc grated version of this floor drain exists, it might be worthwhile to try that instead of the stainless grate version that I used.    This year instead of 2-part epoxy I used some of that gel-type super glue to re-bond the base of the lights to their floor drain mounts to see if that wold hold better.   I also wrapped a few turns of white vinyl tape around the junction of the floor drains and the light bases, just as  added reinforcement out in the wind/elements.   So far so good

Boredom, the mother of invention

What does a backyard rink addict do with a couple of days off when it is nearly 50 degrees outside during the first week of January?   Head to the garage and build a Zamboni, of course!    Actually, this is the third “Tractor Zamboni” that I’ve pieced together over the years.   The first one was not much more than a Rubbermaid garbage can and some garden hose : crude and only somewhat effective.   Version 2.0 used a 35 gallon sprayer tank and a contorted system of PVC plumbing, but served me well for nearly 5 years until I gave it away prior to moving last year.   This time around, I wanted to refine the design and simplify a few of the things that I didn’t like about the previous version as well as try out an idea or two that popped into my head this fall while I waited for the weather to turn cold.

Two quick stops at Tractor Supply Company and Home Depot and all of the basic components were sitting in the garage waiting to be transformed into a new ice resurfacer through a little bit of ingenuity, some spare time,  and hopefully only a little bit of cursing.

There is little you can’t do with lumber and some PVC

Years ago, I was able to find a handy fold-down utility deck that bolts on to the back of my garden tractor.   I’ve always found it a good stable base for mounting a 200+ lb tank of water and it saves me from having create some sort of wagon or cart that I have to tow behind me.   I ripped a section of plywood to fit the frame of the utility deck and then cut some lengths of 2×6 for the 35 gallon tank to sit on, strapping it down with two extra cargo straps and some heavy duty screw-in eye rings.

Tank and base secured to tractor

 Using lengths of 1″ PVC pipe and various valves and fittings, the plumbing from the tank started to take shape.   The valve was secured to one of the 2×6 skids with some pipe clamps and a section of flexible pool vacuum hose was cut and attached to deliver water from the valve to the water spreader.   Four oversize pipe clamps were screwed onto the back of the zamboni to hold the yet-to-be-built water spreader.

Supply side plumbing assembled and attached

 My goal for the water spreader was to be able to raise and lower it from the driver’s seat, yet still have it ride just above the surface of the ice and deliver a thin layer of water.   The final design, again used a 1″ PVC frame that was attached to the tractor via the oversize pipe clamps so it could freely pivot up and down as well as ride over uneven ice or the occasional bump without tearing off the back of the tractor.    3/32″ holes spaced 1″ apart were drilled in the bottom of the  4-foot spreader bar to deliver a thin and even stream of water and the flexible pool vacuum hose was attached to the bottom bar of the spreader via a quick-disconnect fitting.

I screwed brass hooks into the top of the spreader bar which will be used to attach a resurfacing towel.    The towel, is essentially a standard bath towel folded in half lengthwise and has brass grommets inserted along the top edge roughly every 6″.  This way, the wet towel can be removed from the tractor and thrown in the laundry/utility sink  so that it doesn’t freeze solid between resurfacings.   A length of rope was attached to the spreader that leads through small gripper cleat fastened to the top of the water tank which enables me to raise and lower the bar/towel from the tractor seat.   Finally, an additional length of PVC with a small notch cut out of one end was cut to fit over the red valve handle, and allows manipulation of the water valve from the driver’s seat as well.

Water spreader assembly and PVC valve handle extension

 After a quick leak-check and some minor tweaking of the PVC fittings, the new zamboni was ready for its inaugural run (once the weather finally decided to cooperate).      After the first couple of test runs, the only minor problem is that the tractor doesn’t corner too well when the tank is full as there is not a lot of weight on the front wheels, so I need to rig some sort of counterbalance/weight for the front of the tractor.  However, overall the new design works incredibly well and I can now resurface the rink in less than 15 minutes (4 minutes to fill the tank and about 8 minutes of driving). The 35 gallon tank is more than enough to do my 32′x80′ rink.   I usually have enough water left over to make 5-6 additional passes down the center of the rink or any areas needing additional smoothing.

New tractor Zamboni in action

As I’ve said before, half the fun of maintaining a backyard rink is the process of maintaining it or finding new ways to overcome the challenges and issues that arise along the way.    In the end, driving my lawn tractor around in circles doesn’t accomplish anything more than I could with my garden hose, but it sure is a heck of a lot more fun!

For more information on the construction process of the tractor zamboni, can check out the video