How to Build a Backyard Ice Skating Rink (And Why Your Grass Will Survive)
Getting the kiddos to play outside in the winter can be a tough job, but fresh air and exercise are good for their health, and getting them out of the house for a while is good for your mental health—or at least, it’s good for getting the kitchen mopped.
An outdoor ice skating rink is just the thing to give them both exercise and wonderful memories of childhood that make you out to be the hero. They can slip and slide and work on their balancing and ice hockey skillz, and it’s guaranteed to keep them out of your hair for luxurious chunks of time. Plus, just think of those early, balmy days of spring, when the rink becomes a precarious sheet of ice floating on water. How fun is that gonna be?
If your kids are older, letting them construct the rink can be part of the fun, and it’s a great project for exercising those problem-solving skills. Overall, it’s a pretty simple operation with a lot of options.
But first, let’s address the question of the lawn.
Why an Outdoor Ice Skating Rink Won’t Ruin the Lawn
As long as you time your outdoor rink properly, your lawn won’t be any worse for the wear once you pull up the rink in early spring. The reason is that once temperatures are consistently below 50 degrees, perennial grasses go dormant and won’t die when exposed to long-term darkness and weight.
The first key is to put down the ice rink once the lawn has gone dormant. Since you’ll need about three days of 20-degree temperatures for a smooth freeze and temps below 32 degrees for it to stay frozen, you probably won’t have to worry too much about whether it’s asleep for the winter. (It will be.)
The other key is to pull the rink up soon after it begins to thaw, when the days are longer and the weather is warmer. Depending on where you live, the rule of thumb is to pull it up between February 21 and March 21. The farther south you are, the earlier you’ll want to get that ice melted.
How to Build Your Backyard Ice Rink: The Basic Idea
Building a backyard ice rink isn’t an exact science, and it certainly isn’t rocket science. How you build yours depends on how big you want it, how easy you want it to be to disassemble, the materials you’re working with, the slope of your yard, and your own dang preferences.
For a successful backyard rink, the ice should be around three inches thick. Ideally, the rink should be built on fairly level terrain. Consider: If you have a three-inch slope, the water at the deep end will be around six inches deep, and it may take a long time to freeze all the way through. Before flooding your rink, you want to make sure the temperature is going to be 20 degrees or colder for several days so that flooded rink will freeze.
Here’s how to make your backyard ice rink:
1. Make the frame to hold the water.
If there’s packable snow on the ground, you can use it to create the three- to four-inch curb that will keep the water in as it freezes. If you use a snow curb, you don’t even need a tarp. Just tamp down the snow inside the rink, and spray it and the snow barrier lightly with the hose a few times, letting each layer freeze before you apply the next. After a few layers, an ice barrier will form, and you can flood the rink.
If there’s no snow on the ground, lay down 2x4 or 4x4 lumber, or use three- to four-inch PVC piping (or anything else you’ve got laying around—a stack of bricks, for example—to make the frame. You can screw the lumber together if you wish. Use heavy-duty duct tape to secure the PVC pipes together.
2. Put down the tarp.
Lay the tarp down so that it reaches the top of the curb or higher. You want to get a decent tarp that won’t rip—a thickness of five mil is about as low as you want to go. A light-colored tarp is best, because it’ll help the ice freeze faster, and it’ll reflect the sun and help keep it from melting. It also helps protect your lawn by preventing too much heat buildup during the thaw.
If you use two or more tarps, overlap them by about five inches. Lay the first tarp at the deep end, if there is one, and overlap the next tarps as you move up the slope. This will help ensure water doesn’t seep out at the seams. The best and easiest option, though, is to use a single tarp.
Here is a huge, white tarp you can get on Amazon. If you’ve got a ginormous back yard and you’re thinking big, you’ll save time and headaches by getting one big tarp instead of grappling with a bunch of smaller ones. This baby is pretty thick at 8 mil, and it’s super durable and completely waterproof. Three reviewers gave it a total of 4.7 stars. It’s white, which is good. It’s got reinforced plastic corner bars, and the edges are reinforced with polyethylene rope and heat-sealed. The two five-star reviewers liked how durable and waterproof it is, and the four-star reviewer actually used it as a backyard ice rink liner and said it’s a great quality, extremely durable tarp.
You can get this excellent tarp in other sizes, too:
3. Flood the rink and let it freeze.
Turn on the hose, and fill that baby up to about three inches. It’ll take three to five days for your water to freeze solid, depending on the temperature and how deep the water is.
Lace up your skates, and send your kids out to practice their toe loops and axle jumps. Or to just work on moving in a straight line and not falling down—you gotta start where you are.
Maintaining Your Outdoor Ice Skating Rink
Here are some tips for maintaining your outdoor rink:
- To fill in cracks and holes, pack them with snow. Wet down the snow, and scrape smooth.
- When the rink needs to be resurfaced, spray thin layers of water over the ice, letting them freeze completely between layers.
- When it’s time to pull up the rink, speed up the thaw by sprinkling a dark material like charcoal over the ice—don’t use salt, for obvious reasons (hint: you’ll kill your grass.) Break down the rink barrier to ensure proper drainage so that the water doesn’t re-freeze.
Should You Spring for an Outdoor Ice Rink Kit?
Maybe you don’t want to build your own backyard rink. Maybe you want to buy a kit instead. Good call, but before buying, look at your choices carefully. Some skating rink kits are crap.
When I was first exploring the world of outdoor ice skating rinks on Amazon, I wasn’t looking for anything crazy-expensive, but I found that unless you’re willing to pay some bucks, you might be better off saving your money and scrounging up the stuff you need at home.
The reviews of the kits aren’t great. The cheapest is a 10-ft x 13-ft inflatable job that’ll set you back a paltry $12. But don’t bother with this one. Earning 2.7 stars, four out of 10 reviewers mentioned that the sides didn’t inflate or had a slow leak that let the water drain out before it could freeze. Another unhappy skater said they punctured the blow-up curbs with their skates in the first 20 minutes.
Another inflatable version, the Revel Match Inflatable 12-ft circular rink, above, gets 3.8 stars on Amazon. It lost air for one guy, but the remaining four reviewers were happy with it. This one is probably best for the real little kids, though.
The more expensive rinks work great for some and stink for others. The Nicerink 20’ x 40’ Backyard Ice Rink Kit gets 3.4 stars. Four out of seven reviewers gave it five stars. Although the kit says it works on sloped yards, both of the one-star reviewers warn against buying this rink if you have more than a five-inch slope, because the deep end won’t freeze all the way through, and water will push up onto the ice when you try to skate. This rink comes with 34 brackets, a 6-mil white liner, a roll of patch tape, and a tube of underwater glue. You have to supply the lumber—specifically, according to the directions, the perimeter’s worth of 3/4-inch plywood at least 12 inches high.
Iron Sleek also makes a line of outdoor ice skating rinks, but they’re more expensive per square foot than the Nicerink kits, and the reviews aren’t as good.
A kit can be great, and it can help you produce a large, durable skating rink that you can re-assemble year after year. But making the rink yourself will probably save you some money, and there’s more flexibility regarding the materials you use.
Have you made an outdoor ice skating rink? How’d it work out for you? Any tips to share?