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The art of the perfect backyard skating rink

During our 35-year history, we’ve met plenty of readers who thought building a backyard hockey rink was as simple as spraying down flattened snow and waiting for the Canadian cold to do all the work. But a skatable rink takes both planning and elbow grease—both of which are more than worth the effort once you lace up and enjoy that first skate with your family. To make the process easier, we’ve compiled the finer points of building and maintaining your backyard skating rink.

Perfect ice needs perfect weather

According to Tim Armata, the engineer who oversees the world-famous outdoor ice rink at Chateau Lake Louise, the best weather for rink-building is a temperature of -10 degrees Celsius with no snowfall, no direct sun, and absolutely no wind, which prevents ice from freezing uniformly, leading to seams and bumps in the ice—along with face plants when you discover them. For the smoothest skating surface, look for a shady area that’s sheltered from the chilly breeze.

Respect your slope

Of course, finding a spot that’s sheltered from the wind means nothing if you’re building a backyard rink on a grade. And even though your property “looks pretty flat,” we’ll bet our Patrick Roy rookie card that it’s not as level as you think. An imperceptible pitch can have a major impact on every other part of your rink, including its square footage and the height and bracing of your frame, so be sure to measure your slope before you gather your materials. And while you can overcome some amount of slope by building higher and flooding deeper, your best bet is to build a smaller rink in a space that’s as flat as you can find. To measure your slope, pound four stakes into each corner of your would-be rink, and run taut string between them. Adjust the string until it’s level, and the differing heights of its anchor points on each steak will tell you what kind of slope you’re dealing with. 

New year, new liner

There’s no secret sauce to building and bracing your rink frame—just make sure your boards sit tall enough to accommodate the pitch of your yard. But the liner is where many rink-builders get it wrong. We’re not big on wasted plastic, but don’t expect your liner to last forever. Holes happen, and if you’re not careful about avoiding them, you’ll wonder why you’ve been running your hose all day and your rink still isn’t full. And never put your liner in until you’re ready to fill it. All it takes is a few sharp twigs or one curious raccoon to poke holes in the plastic, and you’ll be flooding your yard instead of filling your frame. By the same token, make sure you clear your yard of sticks, stones, and pinecones before you lay your liner down. To get the longest life out of your liner, look for plastic that’s at least 4mm thick.

Clear snow the smart way

Clearing the snow from your rink is an all-or-nothing endeavour: either you keep it meticulously clear all the time, or you let the fallen snow protect your ice until right before a game of shinny. Of course, clearing snow before a skating session can sap energy and waste a chunk of your too-short winter day, so constant snow clearing is a good habit. And the right tool, like the Greenworks 80V 22″ Snow Thrower. Its battery-powered, foldable design makes it easy to carry to your rink, and its dual LED lights are perfect for evening snow clearing. Plus, its rotating chute throws snow up to 30 feet in the direction of your choice, so you won’t be piling it up in the centre of your rink. Unlike much-heaver snow blowers, snow throwers are quiet, so early-morning or late-night sessions will be less likely to irk your neighbours. Once you’ve used one, you won’t want to go back to your “shovel sprint” warmup.

The nighttime is the right time

A crisp winter night under a starry sky is the perfect time to clear your head with a skating session. But it’s an even better time to tend to your rink. Whether you’re filling it for the first time or living out your Zamboni-driver fantasies with some quick upkeep, the evening hours are best, as there’s less wind and no sunlight to cause dimples in your ice.

Give the nod to the neighbours

Don’t situate your rink in a spot where wild slap shots will shatter windows, and be respectful of the fact that pucks hitting the boards after dark are louder than you realize. A good skating rink should bring a community together, so consider inviting your neighbours over for the occasional skate. Even better, host a once-a-week “neighbourhood skate” night for the other families on your road.

A fire pit brings out the whole family

Building a backyard rink is a labour of love, with emphasis on “labour.” But even though you’re focused on creating the perfect surface for the skaters in your crew, your entire family will get a lot more enjoyment out of the rink if you add comfortable seating. A nearby fire pit—not too close, naturally—will provide a warm place for grandparents or other relatives to sit and enjoy family skates, even if they’re not keen on lacing up.

Looking for the perfect maintenance tool for your backyard rink? Learn more about Greenworks snow throwers.