A simple backyard ice skating rink is a wonderful way to spend active time with the family during the cold winter months. A small rink is fairly easy to build if the conditions are right with consistently freezing temperatures in the winter. A DIY rink does require some natural snowfall before construction but once completed, it is relatively easy to maintain for the entire winter season. You can use wooden boards or PVC pipe to aid in the construction or go the truly no-cost approach by building it entirely out of snow and water.
A backyard ice-skating rink depends on having a relatively flat, level site in your yard. Small dips and rises can be leveled out with snow before you pour the rink, but a very uneven or sloped lawn will not be very well suited to a skating rink.
When properly constructed, a backyard skating rink will not kill the grass on your turf lawn—a common fear. Construction techniques will vary slightly depending on the resources available.
Skating Rink Kits
Although a basic skating rink is fairly easy to build with ordinary materials—even just snow and water—there are also more sophisticated skating rink kits you can buy. These kits usually include vinyl, plastic, or wood side walls, as well as a tarp liner; more elaborate kits may include nets and raised walls to serve as the side boards for recreational hockey. But some of these kits can cost several hundred dollars, and while they can be a good choice if you are a serious backyard hockey enthusiast, they are usually not needed if your goal is just a recreational rink for your family.
Tools and Supplies You Will Need
- Snow shovel
- Garden rake
- Wooden boards or PVC pipe (for border)
- Water supply
Prepare the Base
Before you attempt to create the ice surface itself, it is important to start with a one- to two-inch base of packed snow, which will serve as a barrier between the grass and the ice. Spread snow over the rink area, and rake it into a smooth layer, one to two inches thick.
It's best to position your rink where there is convenient access to water for flooding it. Consider the length of your garden hoses and where you can access a water spigot when planning your rink. Few yards are completely flat, but try to find a location where the slope is no more than a few inches from one side to the other. Manufacturers of skating rink kits generally advise no more than a 6-inch slope, since the greater the slope, the higher the perimeter walls will need to be in order to hold the water.
Create the Border
Build a raised border around the rink area, at least three inches high (it may need to be even higher if your yard has a slope). A lumber edging made for 2x4 lumber set on the edge can work, or large-diameter PVC piping can also work. Or, for a true bargain option, just heap up snow in a three- to five-inch mound around the perimeter of the rink. To hold the average adult, the ice on your rink needs to be at least 3 inches thick to avoid cracking.
Solidify the Base
Next, spray the snow base lightly with water several times, and allow it to freeze. The first spraying should be very light, so as to avoid melting the layer of snow you laid for the base. This layer of water-saturated snow will form a barrier that prevents the water from soaking through to the ground when you flood the rink. A sheet of plastic or tarp can also be used as a liner to prevent water from soaking through to the grass.
Flood the Rink
Once the base and sides are ready, the rink can be flooded. For a solid freeze, the temperature should be about 20 degrees Fahrenheit or colder for at least three consecutive days. The best results are achieved if you take your time and spray thin layers over the entire rink, rather than allowing it to gather in a large pool.
Maintain the Rink
Hard use by skaters will chip the ice and may even crack it. To fill in holes and cracks, use a water-snow slush mix as a filler and allow it to freeze, then re-flood the rink. When snow falls, a simple shoveling with a plastic or vinyl push-style snow shovel is often all that is required. Periodically, re-flood the rink with additional water.
When skating season is over: Winterkill is most likely to occur in the spring when freezing and thawing occur, and when water pools on the grass for long periods of time. When the rink starts melting, take measures to speed up melting and draining of the water. Snow banks and boards around the edges of the rink should be removed so the water can run off easily. Breaking up the ice and spreading out dark materials (like charcoal or Milorganite) may speed up the melting.