Posted on Jun 5, 2012 in Other stuff, Sports & fitness
How do they make ice at ice rinks? I would guess that they don’t just start blasting a fire hose on to the ground. And once they make it into ice, how do they keep the rink frozen?
Once upon a time, if you wanted to go ice skating or play hockey, you had to live in a place where it actually got cold enough for ice to form.
Of course, now the dinosaurs are extinct and you can find indoor ice rinks in every corner of the world, no matter how hot or cold it normally is there. So how do they keep quality ice in a rink, especially in the summer or in warm climates like Arizona or Florida?
If you’ve ever been in an indoor ice rink, you know they keep them pretty cool — generally between 55 and 65 degrees. However, if you remember your elementary school science, you know water freezes at 32 degrees. So that’s still not cold enough for water to naturally freeze into ice.
Here’s the trick. A modern ice rink is constructed out of several layers, but the one we’re primarily concerned with is the topmost concrete slab where the ice is laid down. This slab, also known as the “ice slab,” is no plain lump of concrete. The floor houses a cooling system, in some cases containing upwards of 12 miles of pipes, through which an anti-freeze like solution called brinewater is pumped at a temperature of about 16 degrees. The brinewater cycles through the pipes and then back through a series of chillers (think big air conditioners — really big) to keep it cold. This keeps the temperature of the ice slab just below freezing.
Then, the crew will begin adding water to the chilled surface — this is a little more involved than just dumping a bunch of water on the ice, however. The ice has to be built up slowly and gradually, in layers, in order to create an ice surface that is just the right thickness and consistency. First, water is sprayed onto the surface in a very fine mist, laying down approximately 1/32 of an inch of ice. This layer freezes almost instantly, allowing the second layer of 1/32″ to be put down.
At this point, the crew will paint this second layer white — yes, paint on the ice. That nice white surface and all those markings you see at a hockey game aren’t painted on the concrete, they are painted on the ice itself. Once the white base paint is laid down, a third ice layer, about 1/16″ thick is sprayed down. The lines and markings and logos are painted on top of this layer. Finally, the remaining layers are laid down to create an ice surface that’s about one inch thick.
As you can imagine, this is a rather protracted and laborious process — it takes many hours to lay down the ice from scratch. So instead of just tearing it all up after an hour or so of skating has left it all gouged up, this is where the ice resurfacer comes in.
For some reason every kid who grows up watching the Zamboni go by at the local ice rink wants to drive the thing. Your author was not — is not — immune to this phenomenon either. There’s just some attraction being the guy who drives the contraption that looks for all the world like a refrigerator on wheels that makes the ice all shiny and new again.
So if you aren’t one of those lucky few who get to pilot these magical machines, you wonder just exactly how they work their ice-reviving magic. Well lucky for you, I’ve spent enough time slumming at ice rinks to find out. But first, let’s get something straight…
Yes, you probably just call it a Zamboni. However, I do feel the need to point out that Zamboni is a brand name of ice resurfacer — so while the Zamboni is an ice resurfacer, not all ice resurfacers are Zambonis. It’s a bit like calling all facial tissues a Kleenex, all photocopiers Xerox machines, or all pain relievers Tylenol.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about how an ice resurfacer actually works. First, a large, sharp blade — like a giant version of a paper cutter blade — shaves off the top layer of ice. Next, an auger collects all the shaved ice and snow and directs it towards a vertical auger at the back of the machine. The vertical auger picks the shavings up and deposits them in a large built-in container, leaving the ice clear. Finally, hot water (140 to 160 degrees) is laid down on the ice to fill in the leftover grooves in the ice. A cloth towel follows the hot water, smoothing and evenly distributing the hot water. Despite sounding counterintuitive, hot water is used, because it slightly melts the existing ice layer, thus creating a stronger bond with the existing ice, rather than a brittle layer on top that would chip and shatter.
So now when you go skating, every time you fall on your rear on that wonderfully smooth and well prepared ice — you’ll know exactly how it got there and how they keep it that way.
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