Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Ice We Skate

This year has been a trying one for those of us in the business of building and maintaining backyard rinks. The weather has been mostly uncooperative for the period of time when it’s usually possible to support decent outdoor ice here in Minnesota (sometime from early-December to mid-to-late February depending on the year). Too many warm days and far too few cold ones made it difficult to first get that initial base you need to build on and then to refreeze and enjoy the ice regularly afterward.

It wasn’t until after Christmas that I was finally able to get said base established and it’s been a struggle since then to find days when the ice was suitable for skating. The weekend before last was one of the few all winter that had two decent days ice wise and we were lucky enough to be able to get out on both of them. Yesterday, we laced ‘em up for a quick skate before the Super Bowl and considering how mild the temps have been lately, the ice was actually surprisingly decent. But overall this year, the payoff that you get from being able to play on the rink has not been up to expectations given the effort involved in setting it up.

Which is part of the bargain of course. Backyard rink builders are like farmers in that we’re at the mercy of the weather when it comes to the quality of the product that we’ll be able to deliver. At least for us, it’s just a hobby and not a livelihood. And as disappointing as the results have been this year, it’s still an experience that I’m glad to have gone through. This is my second year working on a backyard rink and the weather, and associated challenges that come with it, has been almost entirely different from the inaugural season. Cold wasn’t as much of an issue last year as trying to keep the rink clear of snow. Hopefully, dealing with those differences has helped prepare me for further unpredictable conditions in future seasons.

This year’s rink was also a bit bigger than last year’s and that expansion, while not significant, presented its own challenges. I’ve probably reached the point where any further growth in the rink’s size would require some leveling of the yard. I’d have to weigh the cost/benefits of that carefully. I have already given thought to adding boards to next year’s edition. I considered it for a while this year, but the delays brought about by the mild temps diminished my enthusiasm for that additional effort. Besides at this point, the kids don’t have much of a problem keeping the puck or tennis ball within the current confines of the rink’s short walls. But next year...

One of the pleasures of the backyard rink is the feeling of satisfaction-however fleeting it may have been this year-of putting together and then enjoying something all of your own doing. And for those of us who sit in offices and bang on keyboards or talk on telephones all day long there is also the physical element required in it and working with (and sometimes against) nature and the elements. Not the things you get to experience when you’re putting together a PowerPoint presentation. So even in a year such as this when the rewards are small, the effort is still worthwhile.

It’s almost ironic that as we approach what would normally be the beginning of the end of the outdoor ice season, the forecast for the rest of this week actually calls for weather suitable for ice making (with a high of thirteen and low of six on Friday for example). And it’s also the week where we depart for a family vacation to Florida. Upon our return home, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see such cooperative conditions again which means that the useful season for our rink probably ends this week. The kids will still have fun enough playing on the ice and breaking it apart as it melts with the coming of spring, but the skating days are over. Until next year.