Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Do You Need Ice to Ice Skate?

What do you call an ice skating rink without ice? A “specially-formulated resin surface” rink, perhaps? While it may be difficult for those currently enduring harsh, sub-freezing winters to fathom, plastic surfaces are making “ice” skating possible in warmer weather locations.

Natural outdoor ice rinks are dependent on weather conditions. Indoor (and some outdoor) rinks using natural ice need extensive refrigeration systems to maintain the ice surface and prevent melting. In addition, natural ice rinks require periodic resurfacing to maintain a smooth and level surface.

This local newspaper article about the new outdoor plastic surface rink in Rockville, Md. points out the benefits these rinks bring to warmer weather climates:

The wintertime activity returns to downtown Rockville after decades without one. Burt Hall, Rockville’s director of recreation and parks, said there was once an ice skating rink – made of real ice – built sometime in the 1970s behind the Executive Office Building. “It was not covered and it did not have a strong enough refrigeration system to keep the ice solid so on warm days it was a shallow swimming pool, so they finally gave up,” Hall said.

The rinks are made of huge sheets of plastic — usually ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene or a high density polyethylene (HDPE) — that are sprayed with friction-reducing solution or wax and fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. This corporate video, and this one, illustrate how the resin rinks are produced.

Because they do not require water, refrigeration or resurfacing, the rinks are being touted by manufacturers (like this one and this one) for their environmental and economic benefits.

According to this Yahoo Sports article, in Japan, despite an ice skating boom, “ice rinks are closing due to economic strain, and the fabricated rinks can save operators roughly $190,000 U.S. annually in both air conditioning and water bills.” This news video, on the apparent ice skating rink shortage in Japan, explores how the artificial rinks may solve the “crisis.”

So, finish that cup of hot chocolate, lace up those skates and glide across the polyethylene! You won’t get cold and wet when you fall.

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