Ice skating and all it's sports (hockey, figure skating, curling) are popular in Canada and the northernmost states in the US.
However, as we head south, ice sports are less accessible.
Local ice arenas are few and far between, and backyard ice rinks are pretty much nonexistent.
But now, we're happy to report, the days when ice skating was only available to the masses throughout the winter months has come to an end.
Thanks to advancements in synthetic ice plastics, skaters of all ages and levels can practice and play at their own leisure....in any region, warm or cold.
The King In The North
The local ice arena was typically the only option for anyone that wanted a leisurely skate at a moment’s notice.
Years ago, you needed to live in the Northern Hemisphere and wait for the pond to freeze over with each passing winter.
Yes, in Canada, ice skating - and snow sports, in general - is king.
Finding a space to skate is easy at almost any time of the year.
There are a few reasons why.
An Ice Skating Climate
Climate is the first obvious reason.
Canada is notably colder and has longer winters.
Yes, officially the winter season starts mid-December until mid-March.
However, Canadians start to experience freezing temperatures as early as October and as late as April.
As you head further North, cold temperatures can last even longer.
That means Canadians have the perfect climate for frozen ponds, backyard rinks, and everything in between.
The Origins of Rinks (and Ice Hockey)
We have Canada to thank for the original concept of an ice rink.
The earliest introduction of ice skating in the Northern Hemisphere came in the 1800s.
From there, the first outdoor rink in a defined space appeared in Montreal in 1850.
Some 12 years later, Canada created the first-ever indoor rink, the Victoria Skating Rink.
Soon, the first indoor hockey game was a nine-on-nine game with a wooden disc.
These events led to a groundswell of rinks, skating, and all things ice, which quickly spread to the United States.
While field hockey has been around hundreds of years before, they were willing to push the bar, responsible for many of the rules and leagues popular today.
A Skating Culture
Ice skating is embedded in the very fabric of Canada.
Hockey is their national winter sport.
Canada also has over 7800 ice rinks, by far the most in any country.
Some of the most famous ice skaters, hockey players, and curling teams are from up North.
Canadians are protective and fanatic about their winter sports, leading to fierce rivalries with opponents like the USA and other Nations.
You can’t help but marvel at their devotion to sport, especially around Christmas time.
Skating in Canada has no doubt impacted the USA over the decades.
As we cross the border, there's lots of skating activity in states with particularly long, cold winters.
Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin come to mind.
However, that does not mean that more populated states like Michigan, Massachusetts, and New York lack a skating culture.
It is alive and well.
In fact, some of the most successful hockey teams and figure skaters come from urban cities and states.
However, more and more skaters that want to pursue the sport full-time find themselves moving to spaces and countries that can better facilitate their progress.
The Benefits of Ice Skating
So what’s the big deal about skating?
And why do we love it so much?
There’s an exhilarating feeling you get from lacing up those skates and gliding across the ice, for starters.
The speed feels fantastic.
And the creativity you develop with skating is invaluable.
It’s a way to release your stress, calm your mind and enjoy the movement.
Or it’s a way to focus your mind and get an edge on your competition.
It’s a Great Workout.
The stress relief comes from endorphins that we release from physical activity.
But we also burn calories.
An hour of ice skating can burn up to 650 calories.
For kids with fast metabolisms, this may not matter.
For adults looking to stay in shape, it’s a fun way to shed those extra pounds.
Balance and Coordination
Falling is a part of ice skating, but not for long.
The more you practice, the better and stronger you get.
Ice skating targets your lower body, helping you build those hamstrings, quads, and glutes.
The strength and power translate to better balance and coordination.
Both on the ice and off it.
Kids and Sports
Tens of thousands of kids compete in ice hockey or enjoy figure skating.
It’s a great sport to start if you have access to a rink or it’s colder in your neck of the woods.
But that does not mean your kids can’t enjoy it if you live further south.
You can start teaching your kids to skate as early as five years old, then see which level or sport they gravitate to most.
Build Your Community
Once you start to skate, you’ll find other skaters and create your own skating network.
It could be as simple as your neighbors coming over to try an outdoor rink or a neighborhood hockey tournament at a local rink.
The skating community is close-knit, helping each other to become better ice skaters, figure skaters, and hockey players.
How the Warm Climate States Can Ice Skate
As we head south, the weather heats up, and the ice melts.
The winter months are shorter, especially on the West coast.
There are fewer opportunities to ice skate as there are fewer available rinks.
This interesting graph shows how Southern states like Kansas, Arkansas, Georgia, and Louisiana, have less than five ice rinks.
Compared to the millions of people in each state, they won’t be able to meet any growing demands.
It is understandable.
Indoor ice rinks take hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop and are expensive to maintain.
Decision-makers and business owners will want a return on investment, but they may be missing the bigger picture.
There are skaters in these states with no facilities!
So how do we resolve this problem that continues to get worse?
People wonder why winter sports like Ice Hockey, Figure Skating and Curling become so popular every four years during the Olympic Games.
The reason I would say is partly that to grow the game, you need the ice that comes with it, and to make it yourself would cost a LOT of money.
The Introduction of Synthetic Ice
Times have certainly changed with the development of new synthetic ice plastics that are portable and easy to assemble to create your own artificial ice rink virtually anywhere.
Over the years, the polymer industry has made huge strides in creating hardened plastics that have changed the way we live.
Plastics manufactured today are durable enough for knee and hip replacements.
They are also resistant enough to handle the wear and tear of ice skating on a flat sheet….and yes, to top it off these plastics are.....RECYCABLE!!!
Today there are hundreds of synthetic ice rinks large and small across the country that require zero energy to operate.
The advancement of the polyethylene material and the technology behind it allow manufacturers to profile the panels to interlock seamlessly.
Now, you can have a miniature-sized rink in your garage, spare room, or driveway.
If that’s not big enough, you can install a large backyard synthetic ice rink.
The big difference between today's synthetic ice plastics and those from the early days is what actually makes the surface slippery.
In the early days, most surfaces were simply a large white cutting board with oils applied (yes, I said oils) to make it slippery enough to skate on.
That would be ideal today if you wanted to slice up a nice salad with your skates, but it probably wouldn’t be the best option for ice skating.
Today’s newer polymer plastics have become denser and abrasive-resistant, while surface glide enhancers designed just for synthetic ice have also developed along the way.
The biggest development has been in the manufacturing process, where plastic ice is now being designed solely for the purpose of ice skating.
The introduction of “slip agents” during manufacturing actually makes the plastic slippery enough not to require surface enhancers.
Without getting too technical, this development creates way less surface friction and makes it feel like you’re on natural ice and the overall experience much more pleasurable.
It also creates more options for those who have always wanted to try ice skating, but it was never an option.
Other Benefits of Synthetic Ice
Enjoying the benefits of ice skating in a warmer state is just the start.
There are other benefits of going synthetic.
- Ice Skate 24/7 - Backyard ice rinks and frozen ponds need freezing temperatures.Once the ice melts, so do the rinks.
- Extra Practice - With synthetic ice, you can practice figure skating or hockey throughout the year to gain an edge on the competition.
- Easy Installation - It's also relatively easy to install and maintain. Large synthetic ice rinks need just a couple of hours to set up. In-home kits only need a few minutes.
- Long Lifespan - On average, synthetic ice rinks can easily last 10+ years with careful maintenance and cleanings.
- Positive Friction - The surface does have slightly more friction than natural ice which makes it the perfect "ice simulator" for those looking to become stronger skaters and athletes.
- Cost Savings - Best of all, synthetic ice rinks cost less over time. It’s one initial investment that keeps on giving for years. With ice rinks, you’ll need to rebuild every year, expending time and resources. Refrigerated rinks can also be built at home however, the compressors and refrigeration system can cost thousands of dollars. Even then, it can only be used for 1-2 months outside of winter.
Setting Up Your Ice Rink in the South
When you’re ready to set up your rink, you just need to follow a few steps:
- Rink Location - Is it your backyard? Deck? Garage? The site determines how many panels you’ll need and other equipment like dasher boards, lights, etc.
- Measure - You don’t want to have a rough estimate and have to repurchase more ice panels. Most companies have standard dimensions for their ice. For instance, our PolyGlide Ice Starter Kit comes with 4 - 1/4" X 24" X 48" tiles, measuring 32 square feet. Our larger infused Pro-Glide panels can be as much as 1/2" thick X 46" X 92. Once you calculate your area, you’ll know exactly how many tiles or panels you’ll need for a rink.
- Flatness - An uneven ground leads to an uneven skate. If the ground is uneven, simply create a pressure treated box frame with OSB plywood (shed deck) and install your synthteic ice on top.
- Installation - Place your tiles in your designated space. A heavy rubber mallet (ideally 2lbs.) is all you need to connect the interlocking dovetailed connections.
And that’s it!
Larger panels are heavy and must be freight shipped to you so you’ll need some friends to help you install your rink, otherwise, it’s a simple installation process.
Growing up, I always remembered looking through the old NHL team Media Guides at some of my favorite hockey players, and at the bottom of the page where it said “Birthplace,” they all said “CANADA.”
Times have certainly changed over the years as the sport of hockey and figure skating continues to grow in the South and warmer climate areas.
With the introduction of these new synthetic ice surfaces, backyard rinks can be set up year-round, allowing more great skaters and players to hone their skills.
You no longer have to head up north to enjoy the ice or spend hours commuting to the only rink in the state.
Synthetic ice brings ice skating right to our doorstep.
With the development of synthetic ice plastics, you can look for these sports to continue growing and developing more players and skaters that may come from some of the most unrecognizable zip codes.