It’s been an especially long winter in West Nipissing. The season is always dark, frigid and seemingly endless; but that has been especially true with many of the typical snow sports shuttered by the ongoing pandemic.
Usually, one of the best places to congregate and pass the time is at the one of the many community rinks. That’s not an option this year. Yet even in lockdown, many locals are still getting out for a skate or a game of shinny, just by walking out their backdoor.
“We use [the rink] every day,” says Mathieu Gaudette. “My children ask first thing after school while stepping off the bus if they can head out on the rink.”
Gaudette is just one of the backyard rink architects we spoke with to understand the tricks for how to make a stellar sheet of ice. It’s too late to start this year, but save these lessons for next winter, so you can create a great skating surface for you and your family to enjoy.
The best ice surfaces start at the bottom. There are two approaches most people take to form their base layer. There are those, like Gaudette, who just use what nature gives them.
“I cleaned out a section with my ATV plow to form the dimensions and back bladed to try to pack down and level out the area,” he describes. “Then, I waited for some cold nights hitting -10 to -15 C and did light floods to build a solid base.”
For Gaudette, it was about a two-week process before his family had their first skate, but it could’ve been less had the weather cooperated. The light flooding is key: you want the entire layer to freeze before applying more water. Éric Bolduc has used a plastic liner for his ice in the past, but he tried his hand at using a packed snow base this winter.
“Making a rink, you have to have a lot of patience,” he says. “This year was a lot of trial and error. Next year, I’ll probably go back to a liner.”
It’s not that the finished product is any different: he’s very pleased with his ice. But the initial flooding goes a lot slower when you use packed snow. Bolduc overflooded at first and the water broke through his snow walls, so he had to apply it about an inch at a time. When he used a liner, he could freeze about six inches a layer.