WRITER | SARAH SPOHN
PHOTOS | DANE TEAL
Michiganders know that winter consists of cold temperatures, icy weather, and snowy slush, often making for a rough couple of months. Pair that with cabin fever, seasonal depression, and lack of vitamin D, and you’ve got the makings for a less than pleasant mood. However, Michigan’s wintry weather also provides the perfect backdrop for one of yesteryear’s popular activities – ice skating.
With many large-crowd activities being canceled or rescheduled due to COVID, people are looking for ways to entertain their entire family at home. What better way than to bring the season’s best skating right to your own backyard?
Here are some things to think about if you’re interested in building an outdoor ice-skating rink. Rink size, options, materials, ice types, and customizable kits make the price range for these rinks vary from about $100 to $100,000 or more. Your price tag will depend on the amount of ice (real or synthetic) you use, whether you are building from scratch or buying a kit, and if you’ll put in the sweat labor or hire a local handyman/contract worker. It’s also important to research local bylaws regarding backyard recreational rinks, as you might also need a building permit and inspection for the facility. Contact your local code inspector before you start.
If you choose DIY, the first step is to measure your space. Younger skaters and small groups typically don’t need a huge surface. For intermediate to experienced skaters, a safe bet is at least 20 x 40 feet, but many people prefer a larger rink and choose a 44 x 88-foot or 52 x 104-foot size.
Next, check your backyard’s slope, the accessibility of an exterior water source, how far your hose can reach, and proximity to your house or other shelter. According to nicerink.com, the rink slope is best when it’s at or less than six inches, which would give four inches of water/ice on your shallow/high side and ten inches at the deep/low end.
Kits with everything (minus the ice) included – liner, easy-to-assemble plastic boards, and brackets – cost about $2,000. If you want to go the DIY route, you’ll need plywood and 2×4 stakes or hay bales for the walls. Liner options vary from 6 mm to 14 mm thick. Some people splurge on a higher-quality liner to reuse rather than throwing a thin liner out at the end of every season.
As for the main ingredient, you’ll be glad to know it’s the least expensive part – as long as you choose to use real ice. It generally takes 1,000 to 2,000 gallons of water to fill a rink with three to four inches of ice. Many people choose to rent a truck with a huge tank of water. Naturally, fluctuating temperatures could endanger all your hard work; the best time to fill your backyard rink is just before the weatherman calls for a big freeze.
For some Michiganders, backyard ice rinks provide plenty of family traditions and memories. Dane Teal of Troy grew up in the Metro Detroit area, playing hockey and skating on the backyard rink built by his engineer dad.
“Some of my fondest wintertime memories were on the rink my dad built in our backyard. We had many fun late nights on the rink, most of the time playing hockey with kids from my hockey team or school. We would also have kids from the neighborhood over to skate.”
Teal helped his dad, the “brains of the operation,” by holding boards and doing lots of shoveling to avoid bumpy or slushy skating surfaces. To continue the tradition with his own family, Teal built a 24 x 32-foot backyard rink last year. After measuring the area, finding the right liner, buying ice rink stakes, and filling the liner, Teal said something very counterintuitive happens. “You cross your fingers for weeks of cold weather,” he said, “and then start to realize how ‘warm’ a southeast Michigan winter can be – especially last winter.”
Teal sets up the boards around Thanksgiving and fills the liner after the first big freeze. The rink stays up through early to mid-March. All in all – rink, liner, and related items such as shovels, rubber mats, lighting, hockey nets, and a DIY ice-resurfacer – Teal spends a little over $1,400. The family memories, however, remain priceless. “I have such great memories of skating on the rink my dad built; I would like for my son to have the same experience. It definitely makes for some good outdoor family time.”