Five Things We Learned Building an Outdoor Ice Rink

As we looked out onto the lake, we knew this was the day to create an outdoor ice rink. 

With a bright blue sky, very little wind, and lots of sun, our energy levels were high – it felt like a day of possibility. 

My family and I are fortunate to have a property that we enjoy year-round on Bass Lake near Bobcaygeon, Ontario, Canada.

Each season has its’ benefits and beauty. Winter has always been my favourite. 

There’s something about the crisp air, snow-covered trees, and crunchy sounds under my boots that makes me feel connected and alive. 

One of the winter activities we most enjoy up north is skating on the lake. However, frozen lakes are not naturally smooth, so if you want to skate (without excessive falling), you have to work for it! 

For anyone who’s created an outdoor ice rink before, bravo! You know it isn’t easy, as there are many different ways to do it and you’re never quite sure it will turn out as you imagine. 

Reflecting on our experience building an outdoor ice rink, here are 5 lessons we learned.

1. Teamwork means showing up even though you don’t know your role.

Before any rink-making could begin, we had lots of snow to shovel! My partner, son and I took turns using three different shovels, one for making the rink edges, one for the heavy lifting, and one for pushing the snow. 

We were a team on a mission. 

Uncovering the frozen ice surface was so satisfying – time for hot chocolate, right? Oh no, not yet, we now had a rink to flood! 

2. Creativity is always accessible…if you let it in.

The unspoken rule of outdoor ice rink creation seems to be that if it isn’t as smooth as glass, it’s not a realrink. 

With no auger (a drill used to make a hole in the ice) or flooding equipment on hand, we knew we had to get creative to smooth out our rink with water.

Our unique process involved filling up an old RV tank with water, loading in onto the back of our ATV, driving the ATV to the water’s edge, pouring the water out, and brooming the water across the enclosed surface. 

To note: when warm water hits an ice-cold surface there’s vapour, sizzling sounds, curvy patterns – it’s better than any chemistry class you’ve ever been in!

We repeated the fill, dump, broom process twelve times before the surface was fully covered and ready for freezing.

3. Patience can be cultivated overnight.

With weather never being a sure thing, we knew it had to get cold enough overnight for the water to actually freeze on the surface. Having to wait until the next morning was going to be the true test. 

Relinquishing control of the outcome and trusting the process are not easy for action-oriented people like me. Letting go seems simple, but it’s not easy.

Waiting was the only option, so once we accepted that, we waited…patiently.

4. Appreciation expands in the present.

The sun was bright again the next morning and as we bundled up to check out our rink, I noticed myself feeling anxious. 

What if the rink isn’t good enough? What if the wind ruined it? What if the ice melted?

The rink did not disappoint! Glassy and smooth, with solid edges and lots of room for skating and hockey, our pond rink was awesome. 

Appreciating its beauty felt more real because of the work that went into creating it. 

I also appreciated how to rink gave us an opportunity to bond over an activity we all enjoy (yes, many Canadians love hockey!), and most of all I appreciated being in the moment on a beautiful frozen lake in Ontario with my family. 

5. Connections can come from surprising places.

Out of this creative experience came a sense of pride in accomplishing something, pure joy whilst using it, and a connection to others with similar ice rink-making experiences! 

As a member of a Facebook Olympians group, I read with interest how Claire Carver-Dias and Marnie McBean went about creating their own skating rinks this winter. 

In the post, we shared advice, photos, videos, and stories about the impact the rinks have had on us. This unexpected connection over outdoor ice rinks is what inspired me to write this blog in fact. 

You just never know who will want to discuss the pros and cons of auger ownership or techniques for creating the perfect skating maze…inspiration comes from surprising places!

Throughout the process of creating, waiting and enjoying our outdoor ice rink, the word possibility kept coming up. It is possible to create something new, something beautiful, and something meaningful when teamwork, creativity, patience, appreciation, and connection, are included. 

The beauty of our outdoor rink exists on two levels – on the surface as seen in the photo above, and underneath, as shown to us through possibility and the creative process.