Whoever decided to strap a piece of metal across the bottom of their foot and glide across a frozen pond must have either been crazy or brilliant. The history of ice skating is a bit murky, but many people believe that it originated in the Scandinavian countries over 5,000 years ago, which would make sense because those countries have some pretty good hockey players! Based on old drawings in literature, some believe that it may even date back to the Middle Ages.
Interestingly enough, the sport of ice skating developed on the frozen lakes of Scotland and the canals of the Netherlands. Early ice skaters strapped sharp splinters of animal bone to the bottoms of their boots. During the 13th and 14th centuries, wood was substituted for bone and later iron in 1572. Ice skating was brought to North America by Scottish immigrants in the late 18th century and has since become a favorite winter pastime and sport for millions of people every year.
I have fond memories of ice skating as a child. Every winter my father would lay down plastic and 2x4s in our backyard and flood it with the garden hose. My sisters and I would spend countless hours twirling, jumping, and just horseplaying on the ice with our dull hand-me-down ice skates. Around the age of 8, I had dreams of being an Olympic ice skater, but then I discovered horses and that dream quickly passed.
Ice skating has become a popular winter activity at many ski resorts across the country in the recent years. Ski resorts are no longer just catering for diehard skiers; they must also cater for families looking for lots of outdoor activities, non-skiers, and people just looking to try something different or relive their childhood memories like me. The White Mountains is home to many ice skating rinks just waiting for kids and adults to take a spin around or slap a hockey puck around in a community pick-up game.
The RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain has one of the best ice skating rinks in New England. Sorry, Dad! Just like ice skates, technology has changed how we make ice. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Will Harding, who is the Chief Engineer at their RiverWalk Resort, about what makes the on-site ice rink so unique.
Q1: When was the ice skating rink installed? How long does it take?
In the late fall of 2016, the “lagoon” pool was poured and set. Soon after, the construction of the ice rink took shape. A company from Canada called Custom Ice designed the ice system specifically to the shape of the lagoon pool. What makes the system unique is that it’s like having a pool within a pool. You can sit in the 20-person hot tub or swim in the indoor/outdoor pool while watching folks skate on the lagoon in 180-degree views.
Breaking down the ice system to store away for the summer and installing the ice system in preparation for the winter fun is both equally labor intensive and takes nearly two weeks to complete. And, we do it twice every year.
Q2: Describe the unique technology and how it works.
The ice rink that gets installed into the lagoon pool has about 15 miles of pex tubing, comprised of some 30 or so rolls that are sequenced by number. Two main manifold pipes lay in the bottom of the pool which comes from the chilling system underground, supplying these several miles of tubing with glycol, also known as antifreeze, but a different type than what you would put in your car.
These “tubing pads” float on the surface of the water and the chilled glycol is pumped through the miles of tubing at 5 degrees. Once ice begins, we continue to slowly flood the system, building the thickness of the ice. Once the ice has formed and frozen to the depth and thickness desired, we will then start to condition the ice until it is “show” ready. Our team of engineers at the Resort have to condition the ice every day. In some cases, the ice may be conditioned 3-4 times per day for skating events and shows.
Q3: Why is this technology so special?
This technology exists in only 5 locations worldwide. Riverwalk Resort is the first in the United States to incorporate this technology into its vast list of extraordinary amenities that Riverwalk Resort offers guests.
Q4: How are the ice and the equipment maintained?
The ice and the systems are maintained and conditioned by the Riverwalk Engineering team. Many of our engineers are trained in the conditioning of the ice and the operations of the custom-made Zamboni built specifically for our shape and size rink. From set up in the fall to break down in the spring, our team of experts does it all.
Q5: How long does the ice last?
In most cases, outside rinks are very dependent on Mother Nature. Sometimes you get to open the rink early when it is cold enough weather to build and maintain the ice, and other seasons may be cut short by early spring temperatures. All very unpredictable, but that’s what makes it fun and challenging.
Q6: How easy is it to take it apart and turn the pool back into a swimming pool?
Break down takes about as long as it does to set up, and that is about two weeks from start to finish. Everything is done and completed sequentially, being dismantled in the reverse order of assembly, relabeled for storage and trucked off-site to our storage facility.
Ice rink technology has undoubtedly changed over the years, huh? You no longer need Mother Nature to freeze the local pond or your dad to break out the garden hose and flood the backyard. Just rent a pair of skates and take a spin on this one-of-a-kind ice skating rink. They host many ice shows and events throughout the winter so make sure you check out their calendar of events.