According to a Snowsports Industries America (SIA) report in 2019-2020, over 25 million Americans (ages six and above) participated in winter sports.
These include sports like snowboarding, skiing, and snowshoeing.
Winter sports involving lots of snow are alive and well.
But what about sports on the hard ice like figure skating, speed skating, and hockey?
These require metal skates and gliding across that smooth, flat surface at different speeds.
So far, the figures are in slight decline.
A Statista report showed a slight decline in skating participation.
Statistics also show slight declines in viewership of hockey.
Figure skating has also declined in participation and viewership in recent years, until recently.
Pardon the pun, but it sometimes feels like skating is on thin ice.
There must be a reason for these wobbly figures.
As we will mention later, the SIA report shows that factors like cost and accessibility are still an issue.
However, we have seen that synthetic ice skating is changing how we can participate in these sports.
In the near future, synthetic ice can give these sports the boost they need.
And what are the ways it can revolutionize sports like hockey and figure skating?
Is Synthetic Ice Good for Skating?
Synthetic ice skating is the best-kept secret in winter sports.
It allows ice skating with your metal skates on a special surface.
Synthetic ice is made with polyethylene, a compound used in thousands of plastic products today.
The polyethylene has special edges that connect like puzzle pieces to create a large surface area for skating.
The first synthetic ice panels using polyethylene appeared over three decades ago.
Skating on these surfaces required a special compound to be slathered on the surface beforehand.
Even then, the quality of skating was about 60% compared to the real thing.
Today, these panels' manufacturing, science, and technology have improved significantly.
Panels are more durable and easier to skate.
The compound that helps with skating comes infused into the materials.
Now, it feels close to the real thing.
Thousands of ice skaters worldwide skate on synthetic ice panels via commercial rinks or backyard rinks.
However, synthetic ice skating is just scratching the surface regarding its applications.
As technology and acceptance improve, synthetic ice skating will be more involved in winter sports.
We're bullish on these eight ways it will revolutionize winter skating in the next decade.
1. Training on Synthetic Ice Will Become Commonplace
Accessibility is a big obstacle to hockey and figure skating.
The picture above shows the available rinks by the state since 2014.
States like Tennessee, Kentucky, Kansas, and West Virginia have less than 10 rinks that serve over 800,000 per capita, on average.
That means athletes of all levels in these states have trouble securing ice time so they can practice.
The deeper you get into these sports, the more time you'll need on the rink.
Practicing just once weekly means it will take twice as long to catch up to your competitors.
Synthetic ice-skating spaces strictly for training will become more commonplace in the future.
These will be warehouses, event spaces, and other medium-to-large locations.
Skaters will hone their skills here before heading to larger rinks to compete.
We'll also see professional teams creating training grounds made of synthetic ice.
Some may even travel with ice to games!
Of course, thousands of skaters already use panels in their homes, garages, and even driveways.
Soon, it will be the go-to training aid for figure skating and hockey.
2. Professional Sports Will Adopt Synthetic ice
Astroturf, a synthetic alternative to grass, was first used in the NFL in the early 1960s.
It had its detractors, but it was the sign of things to come.
Soon, more teams adopted it, culminating with 'The Greatest Show On Turf, 'the 1999 St. Louis Rams.
Today, fourteen NFL teams have artificial surfaces.
They are faster, easy to install, and easier to maintain.
You also don't have to worry about the natural growth of grass.
Artificial surfaces are becoming more like real grass, making their way into baseball, tennis, and other sports.
But what about ice sports?
Synthetic surfaces will find their way into professional hockey.
In time, elite hockey will have its first artificial surface.
Like Astroturf, it is cheaper, easier to install and maintain.
However, there is a concern about speed.
Synthetic ice has a coefficient of friction, the resisting force that happens pressing two surfaces together.
With fresh, resurfaced ice, this is less than one percent.
Synthetic ice can be 10%, closer to heavily used ice.
As time goes on, synthetic ice will improve.
Then, the first team that takes the leap can use the ice to their advantage.
We may even see competitive figure skating on synthetic ice!
Both sports will birth faster, stronger athletes.
3. Sports like Curling Will Rise in Popularity
Curling has been around since the 16th century, but it only gets shone during the Winter Olympics.
The Roaring Game combines finesse, strategy, and skill like no other.
So if you wanted to get started with curling, where would you go?
Curling rinks are hard to find, but you can create your own with synthetic ice.
Synthetic ice curling rinks use the same special polyethylene as synthteic ice skating rinks.
It is cut to the dimensions of a recreational or professional station.
You can have one in your home, or businesses like bars and arcades can install one for customers.
In addition, synthetic ice Curling will open the door to other ice sports like Broomball and Ringette.
4. Countries in Tropical Climates Will Compete in Winter Sports
The Winter Sports Participation report revealed a surprising statistic.
Similar numbers participated in the South Atlantic regions compared to the Middle Atlantic and Pacific regions.
These figures may mean that winter enthusiasts traveled to other areas to enjoy sports.
Or it could imply that there is a demand for Winter Sports in warmer climates.
As you head South, the warmer weather means shorter winters and less access to backyard rinks.
Therefore, competing in winter and skating sports in these regions isn't easy.
Synthetic ice opens the possibility of skating, training, and even competing in hockey and figure skating.
Today, there are even synthetic ice rinks in Caribbean islands like Jamaica and Barbados.
We may see more competitors from unlikely places in the Winter Olympics in the future.
5. It May Drop the Cost of Entry
Winter sports have always suffered from accessibility and diversity.
For starters, statistics show that more than 50% of participants are at least college graduates with an income of at least $75,000.
They also participated several more times per year than those making 50% and less.
Travel, equipment, training, and access to rinks can cost thousands of dollars a year.
You may have the talent, but the sport is hard to maintain if you lack the resources.
These figures go together with poor diversity.
Economic disparities are one of many reasons why people of color struggle to enter the sport.
Synthetic ice can increase access to skating rinks in communities with more commercial rinks and home rinks.
Communities can also construct and maintain rinks using synthetic ice.
The supply can reduce the demand, leading to easier barriers to entry.
6. Backyard Rinks Help Grow the Minor Leagues
For skating lovers in the North, building a backyard rink is one of the best times of the year.
These rinks allow friends and neighbors to practice and even compete in ice sports like hockey.
Unfortunately, as you head South, you can't build backyard rinks.
If you can, they last for shorter periods thanks to changes in the weather.
There has been a rise in synthetic backyard rinks.
You must measure your space and order the synthetic ice tiles.
If you are building a commercial rink, you need more durable panels.
These synthetic rinks mean more hockey players, more skaters, and more competition.
Kids compete at all ages, but we predict a rise in smaller competitions and bush leagues in hockey, curling, and other ice sports.
More weekend warriors will go to different towns and states to compete.
Synthetic ice has an excellent opportunity to create a close-knit skating community.
7. Skates and Equipment with Synthetic Ice in Mind
Hockey players and figure skaters need different skates.
Boots come in assorted styles, fits, and price ranges.
Skaters also need to consider the type of blades based on their skill level.
Blades have a radius, which is the curve of the blade from front to back.
They also have a radius of hollow, a concave groove that runs down the middle of the blade (in other words, ice skate blades have two sides).
Choosing the right blade depends on your speed and performance on natural ice.
But what about synthetic ice?
The goal has been to improve synthetic ice to feel close to the real thing.
Can we then try to change the blade to suit synthetic ice?
In the future, manufacturers may design a perfect blade for synthetic ice.
A common concern is synthetic ice dull blades.
Skaters do find they have to sharpen blades more often.
The blade and boot could provide an experience closer to the real thing.
The perfect blade will need less sharpening and can improve speed and change of direction.
Then, when the skater is ready, they can change out the blade to skate on real ice.
We will also begin to see synthetic ice products for hockey training, curling, etc.
8. Professional Athletes Will Align with Synthetic Ice
Synthetic ice goes beyond providing an alternative surface to skate.
It's a high-performing product that will last all year.
These rinks can also replace the hassle of internal refrigerated risks.
Running a refrigerated rink all year is expensive, hence the small number of available rinks.
Rinks are also eco-friendly, saving water, electricity, and time.
These reasons will encourage athletes to work with synthetic ice manufacturers.
In addition, we will see more sponsorship and partnership deals with a commonplace product.
The more athletes endorse it, the more popular it grows.
9. A Synthetic Ice-Sponsored Team?
Team sponsorships are an important part of professional sports.
Recently, we've had the Staples Center renamed to Crypto Arena.
We've also seen professional sports like soccer and basketball add smaller sponsors to their uniforms.
Will we see a synthetic ice major sponsor soon?
An arena fully outfitted by synthetic ice can adopt the name.
Or we may see minor sponsors on hockey t-shirts.
Synthetic ice companies can even sponsor Olympic figure skating teams!
Sponsorship brings awareness.
The more eyes on the product, the higher the chances of new customers discovering the product.
It also positions synthetic ice as a major brand by leveraging another audience.
Synthetic ice has been around for decades and is here to stay.
As we get more accustomed to skating on this product, we will see its impact grow.
It is not far-fetched to see synthetic ice more prominent in professional hockey and ice skating.
In addition, its ease of installation, durability, and accessibility will further expose winter sports to hotter, tropical regions.
The benefits of synthetic ice skating far exceed its risks.
Getting your synthetic ice-skating rink for your backyard and the spare room is an investment in the future.
Both kids and adults will enjoy skating for hours, practicing, and preparing for competition.
Getting synthetic ice is a straightforward process.
Once you measure your space, we can help you decide on the best type of synthetic ice and the pricing.
In a brief period, you will have your ice!
First, decide on a location and check the surface for evenness before placing the ice.
If the surface is uneven, some sheets of wood can help.
Next, place the synthetic ice on top of the surface, connect the edges, and you're good to go.
Once that is done, you will be miles ahead of your competition.