It’s easy to think of things to do with the kids when the weather is warm and outdoor activities abound, but the winter months can present more of a challenge. This might be a good year to discover the pleasures of building your own ice rink.
With a few basic materials and a little know-how, you can turn the backyard into a place the whole family will enjoy. Best of all, with a rink in the backyard, you won’t have to travel far to skate.
Chicagoans Paul Carrera and Dennis Wise have been building backyard ice rinks for many years.
Carrera, a Chicago native, grew up helping his father build a rink every winter. Now he and his wife, Liz, are continuing that tradition with their own family.
“We had a big yard growing up. I have a postage stamp yard now,” Carrera says laughing, “but the kids love it; we all love it.”
He offers this simple method for building a rink.
How to build your own backyard ice rink
First, wait until the weather has been below freezing for several days. Single digit temperatures are ideal.
If there is no snow:
- Build a perimeter from wood (2-by-4-inch lumber works well) to the desired size. The pieces can be nailed together or laid end to end without fasteners.
- Buy a piece of heavy plastic several inches larger than the wood frame. The plastic can be purchased from Menards or Home Depot.
- Lay the plastic on top of the frame and tuck it down along the inside edge of the wood. It should resemble a shallow pool. Staple the plastic to the frame. Using a garden hose, fill it with about 3 inches of water. Allow the water to freeze solid.
- Add additional thin layers of water, one at a time, allowing each to solidify completely. Build up the layers until the ice is 3 to 4 inches thick.
If there is snow on the ground:
- Using a garden hose, lightly spray the rink area. Pack down the snow/slush until it is smooth and solid. A piece of plywood can be used, or the area can be flattened with a lawn roller. Or for more fun, have everybody pull on their boots and stomp down the snow together.
- Cultivate the ice. Spray a thin layer of water on the packed-down area and let it freeze completely. If it is very cold, it should take about 10-15 minutes.
- Add layers one at a time, allowing each to become solid before adding another. Add thin layers until the ice is 3 or more inches thick.
- Refresh the ice with an extra layer as needed throughout the season.
Carrera sometimes adds a playful element to his rink by freezing money between the layers. The kids see the coins and bills as they skate. When spring comes and the ice melts, it’s finders keepers.
Wise, a Columbia professor, tucks the rink next to his coach house. Like Carrera, he keeps things simple.
“I now do a totally low-tech rink. There is no plastic liner and no perimeter form. I just use snow and water and make many, many layers of very thin ice,” he says.
Wise likes the ice to reach a thickness of 5 to 6 inches. He collects cast-off Christmas trees and anchors them in snow that has been shoveled into banks around the rim. Trimmed with colored lights, the rink has a fairytale quality.
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