Building your own backyard skating rink is almost a rite of passage for Canadian parents. We asked one local family for their tips & plans for creating the best backyard skating experience – please add your advice in the comments!
For the past several winters, Stephane Vautour has built a backyard rink for his boys, Xavier, Noah, and Luka, with the support of mom, Kelly.
It’s about 16 feet by 40 feet, with flood lights in the corners, a bench, and a rack for hockey sticks. Stephane estimates the initial materials cost about $1,000, though most were salvaged from family renovation projects and his father’s construction business. Now, it’s an annual investment of time and less than $200 for a rink liner.
“I will never again re-use the same liner. I tried it one year and it was more trouble than it was worth,” says Stephane. “I spent hours patching holes and still had issues with water leaks. Then I would spend hours trying to find where the water was leaking and patching again. We lost many days because we kept losing our water and had to refill.”
“I have all the rink pieces that I’m able to re-use,” says Stephane. “It takes me about four hours to haul out the boards and assemble the rink, probably another two hours to pound the support posts into the ground.”
He says anyone planning to build should take the time to measure carefully.
“The flatter the area, the easier it’s going to be,” says Stephane. “Calculate the difference in elevation between your deep end and your shallow end before you build. It’s surprising how much of a slope can be on a seemingly flat surface.”
Stephane builds his rink, then fills his deep end with four to six inches of water and waits for it to freeze solid. He then uses a sprinkler to build up the base another one or two inches, until the shallow end is also filled.
“I’m the only person I know that still uses sprinklers,” he admits. “It makes for an uneven ice surface, but I find I am able to build up the base quite quickly this way. It requires little effort or supervision. I just turn on the sprinkler and let it run for a couple of hours.”
Once the base is solid, Stephane fills garbage cans with water to dump them on the ice, creating a more level surface. “Then I use lukewarm water and a homemade ‘rink rake’ that was given to me to do the final finishing layers.”
The rake is built with PVC pipe, a towel, and a pressure washer handle attached to the hose. Stephane also uses it to smooth the ice after the boys head inside for bed at night.
“I don’t mind the work,” says Stephane. “If we can have a few good days on the rink every year, the fun and memories I have with the boys is worth the effort I put in.”
Stephane notes the ideal time to flood your rink is when the forecast calls for a few consecutive days of -15 Celsius or colder, without snow. Building the base can be done before the weather gets too cold, though!