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Skating On Synthetic Ice

Want to bring the fun of an ice rink to your park, but don’t have the expertise for maintenance, the building to house it, or the money to pay the utility bills?

There is another option--fake ice--also known as synthetic ice. This new synthetic ice is a high-tech polymer plastic engineered to create a low-friction surface similar to that of real ice.

Figure skaters, hockey players, and recreational skaters all can use the surface.

“The alternative ice skating-surface concept has been around for 30 years. Back then, it was primarily used for stage shows and was a surface to stand on with skates with silicone used as the lubricant,” says Don Mason, president of KwikRink in Minnesota.

“Fast forward 30 years and synthetic ice is now a very realistic surface for advanced training.”

How Synthetic Ice Works

Instead of the synthetic ice of the past that used a plastic surface and silicone was applied as a lubricant, new synthetic-ice products have the lubricant imbedded within the product.

“Ingredients injected into the core of the synthetic-ice polymer make their way to the surface of the synthetic ice to make a slick surface to skate on,” says Perry Boskus, president of Global Synthetic Ice.

“On the older synthetic-ice surfaces, the skater’s blades cut through the top layer of silicone and then cut through the plastic and the blade chattered or stopped, but newer synthetic ice virtually eliminates this problem.”

Synthetic-ice rinks also can be assembled in nearly any location outdoors, from Florida to Canada.

The benefit of warmer climate locations is the novelty of offering ice skating outside in 90-degree weather under palm trees; in colder climates, freezing weather for an outdoor ice rink is not required, which has recently been an issue in Canada. In fact, those in northern climates having difficulty with warm weather wreaking havoc on traditional outdoor rinks can even use synthetic ice to bridge the gap until it is cold enough to create a traditional outdoor rink.

Compare And Contrast

Since synthetic ice doesn’t require refrigeration, there is no need for extra square footage to handle the cooling and dehumidification systems or the electricity to refrigerate the ice and the natural gas to dry out the silica used in the dehumidification process.

And exactly how does the surface of synthetic ice compare to that of a traditional rink?

With a traditional rink, if a dehumidification process isn’t used properly, humidity creates condensation on the ceiling that literally rains down on the people using the rink; this can create potential problems on the surface of the ice, such as bumps and in some cases--stalagmites.

Plus, there is no need for a Zamboni machine that averages $100,000, requires a trained operator, and must be operated several times a day to maintain a smooth surface. There is also no need for heating coils to melt the shaved ice and plumbing to remove the water from the Zamboni’s dumping area.

“I used to run real ice rinks and they are not very profitable. [They] cost nearly $3 million to install and between $50,000 and $60,000 a month to operate,” says Boskus.

“Synthetic rinks have an extremely low cost at about $250,000 to install a full-sized rink and about $100 per month for the lubricant solution.”

Styles

Synthetic-ice rinks can be created to fit any location and any size. Some synthetic-ice rink systems use an interlocking tile design and can be disassembled and reassembled, which is beneficial for a parks and recreation department because it can be moved from location to location.

Synthetic-ice rinks can be installed on any hard, level surface from the seasonal basketball or tennis courts to an indoor gymnasium.

“Look at the size depending on what you need for the size of the rink. We typically talk people down in size,” says Mason.

“You really don’t need a full-sized rink in most cases. In fact, for park applications, all the rinks are customized.”

“Parks and recreation departments usually consider a 40-foot by 60-foot rink because it is easy to manage and easy to operate,” says Boskus.

“With the rinks being made from interlocking tiles, [this size] can be assembled in about two hours or less. The rink can be disassembled in less than two hours and moved to another location in the park district.”

One way to bring in more people to the rink is to create a unique venue.

“Skating outside is more of a novelty down here in Florida, but one thing we’ve found that brings people in is to make the rink look inviting,” says Boskus. “We made our rink look like a miniature Rockefeller center complete with lighting, decorations, and a Christmas tree.”

Low Maintenance

For synthetic ice rinks installed in the great outdoors, maintenance is as simple as keeping the rink free of dust, dirt, and leaves. The rink surface should also be protected by fencing as well as monitored to insure proper use.

“If you get a synthetic-ice rink with blue tinting, it will appear cleaner longer,” says Boskus.

“To clean the rink, use a little Dawn dishwashing solution and pressure wash it. The cleaner you keep it, the better it skates.”

It usually takes one person 45 minutes to clean a 40-foot by 60-foot outdoor rink. Indoor rinks can be cleaned just like a dance floor.

Tammy York is a professional public relations consultant to outdoor recreation related businesses and parks. Her book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Cincinnati is available via Amazon.com. To reach Tammy, email her at tammy@landsharkcommunications.com.

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