How to Build the Best Backyard Ice Rink: Conventional vs. Synthetic Ice

Find out what type of backyard ice rink suits you best and how to get started on your own rink now!

Cone drill on a synthetic backyard ice rink

The best backyard ice rink is the one that fits your requirements – if you are looking for the most realistic feel and enjoy building things from scratch, you might want to construct your own conventional ice rink in winter; if you prefer using your rink all year round and keeping the installation simple, synthetic ice is the perfect choice.

What are the advantages, disadvantages and requirements of Do It Yourself (DIY), refrigerated rinks and synthetic ice?

Read on to find out how do it yourself compares to refrigerated and synthetic rinks in terms of glide experience, installation, maintenance, pricing and other factors to get started on the best backyard ice rink for your purposes right away – from hockey training to skating fun!

The feel – here is the deal

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Hockey match on a DIY backyard ice rink

Can you glide on synthetic ice like on conventional ice? Well, if your conventional ice DIY backyard rink is done right or you opt for a refrigerated rink, nothing can beat your surface in terms of authentic feel; after all, conventional ice is simply the original. However, a premium quality synthetic ice surface can offer a glide factor of up to 98 % of conventional ice, which has made it a serious alternative to conventional ice even for professional athletes. An authentic feel is crucial to replicate all biometric movements realistically without spoiling your technique, so you should either stick to a self-made conventional ice backyard rink or opt for a high quality synthetic product. Premium synthetic ice products offer an optimal ratio of glide and grip, while keeping abrasion and shavings levels low (much lower than conventional ice). So can you use normal skates on synthetic ice? Yes you can! And just like on conventional ice, you should sharpen them regularly for the best skating experience.
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Ice time – why it matters

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NHL All-Star Roman Josi training on synthetic ice during the summer

DIY and refrigerated rinks are fun to skate on – if only they would last a little longer. Limited to colder regions and winter months, you are looking at a small window of opportunity to use your rink; and that window is getting smaller in times of climate change. We’ve all seen more and more public and private rinks disappear over the last couple of years, as winters are getting warmer.

So how can you maximize ice time throughout the year? This is where synthetic backyard ice rinks score big time! Completely independent of climate conditions, you can set them up anywhere and anytime for an all year round skating season. The enormous increase in ice time lets you be ahead of your peers and practice your skills on a whole new level! Professional athletes like Nashville Predators captain and NHL All-Star Roman Josi use artificial ice pads to keep their training up during the summer months, which gives them an extra edge when the new season starts. While the low quality of many plastic ice products couldn’t convince professionals to use it for the longest time, advances in technology have led to a wider acceptance of premium artificial ice among athletes in recent years.
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Installation – what do you need for your backyard ice rink?

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DIY rink with wooden boards vs. a synthetic rink

It can be a rewarding feeling to build your very own backyard ice rink from scratch – just make sure that you follow the right instructions as things can get a little tricky. According to Canadian backyard rink builder Matt Humes, the main requirements are a decent amount of space, a lot of patience and frosty temperatures of around -15° C (5° F). What you need in terms of materials are boards, bracings, liner (tarp) and a lot of water. You could get customized boards (e.g. wood) from your local hardware store or buy a ready-made backyard ice rink kit. As an alternative, you can also make the boards from snow and ice, but that technique is a more challenging and the puck doesn’t bounce off as well. The tarp isn’t always an absolute necessity, but helps when you build on grass instead of concrete.

Think of the boards as a big sandbox or above ground pool – after you set them up, you lay out the liner and then you wait. According to Humes, you want to pick a time when the weather forecast shows double digit minus degrees for a couple of consecutive days, but without snow (which can otherwise leave a crust). Once the conditions are right, you get your hose ready and keep the water running (for about 14h for a 12×12 m (40×40 ft) rink).

Refrigerated rinks are more of a package solution that you set up. Using a chiller (generator) to cool the ice, they allow for a longer season (working below 10° C or 50° F). However, these rinks are much more expensive (more on that later) and consume tremendous amounts of energy and water.

With synthetic backyard rinks you are setting your surface up, rather than building it from scratch. The plastic panels will be delivered to your house and all you need to do is to snap them together. Make sure to buy panels that connect with a tongue and groove system, since it is seamless and more stable than the puzzle system. The installation of a 12×12 m (40×40 ft) backyard ice rink can be done by 2 people in about one hour. Add professional dasher boards for ultimate authenticity or build your own boards like you would for a DIY rink. Contrary to a conventional rink, you can even use synthetic panels without any boards. If you don’t want to keep your rink set up all year round, it’s easily dismantled and stored.

Both types of rink work on any flat surface, e.g. grass, concrete or stone. If the ground is not perfectly even (e.g. pebbles or gravel), use a tarp to smoothen things out.
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Maintenance – what does it take to keep your backyard ice rink running?

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Shovel snow and chip off frozen rain to maintain your DIY rink in perfect condition

The right maintenance is key to keep your rink running smoothly. Maintaining a DIY backyard ice rink requires regular resurfacing to keep the ice at the same thickness level. Ideally, you recoat it with water after every session. To keep the surface smooth, you will need to shovel snow and scrape off frozen rain droplets. Refrigerated rinks need some extra attention on top of that by using proper ice resurfacing equipment.

If you opt for an artificial rink, maintenance is a little easier and quicker. You can broom off snow and treat rain that has iced over with a pressure cleaner filled with hot water. During warmer months the maintenance of a synthetic backyard rink is minimal – just sweep it every once in a while and you’re good to go!
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Location & space – bigger isn’t always better

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Training stick handling on a small backyard ice rink in summer

If you have a lot of space available for your project, great! If you don’t, DIY and refrigerated rinks might not be the perfect choice, due to the spatial requirements related to the construction. Synthetic ice rinks and smaller pads come in all sizes and shapes to suit your location perfectly. Since they are easily installed, dismantled and stored, artificial rinks are more versatile and also cater to locations with more limited space; they can be set up in a smaller front yard and even indoors in a garage or basement.

Small synthetic rinks, e.g. 4×3 m (12×9.5 ft), can be great to practice stickhandling and shooting, while medium sizes, e.g. 6×3 m (19×16 ft) add enough space to train skating and passing as well. Larger rinks, like 6×6 m (19×19 ft) or 10×5 m (33×16 ft) are great for cone drills, goaltending and 1:1 or 1:2 scenarios. You can also get professional dasher boards and hockey goals to create your own mini arena and practice hockey with your friends. Easily expendable at any time, it’s possible to increase the size of your rink year after year and choose if you want dasher boards around it or not.
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Durability – what to keep in mind

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Hockey training on an artificial front yard rink

If you want to use the materials needed for your self-built backyard ice rink for more than one season, make sure that you invest in quality. Plywood, for instance, might be cheap, but probably won’t last you for years to come. In terms of boards, brackets and liner you get pretty much what you pay for, so choose your supplies according to how durable you need them to be, if you don’t want to go back to the hardware store every year. A backyard ice rink kit with sturdy boards and good liner will cost you a more, but should last you longer. Due to their mechanical nature, refrigerated rinks are much more high-maintenance, which makes their life span a bit of a gamble.

And how long does synthetic ice last? Similarly to a DIY rink, you get pretty much what you pay for, since the quality of artificial ice panels varies greatly. Premium products are more expensive, but their durability might be worth the extra investment as they last you for decades. In fact, the surface of high quality auto-lubricant products even gets better the more you skate on it. Here’s why: when you skate on these artificial ice panels, your blade heats up and cuts open the surface molecules, which releases their lubricant. So the more you skate, the better! After a couple of years you can also just flip around the panels and you will have a completely fresh surface.
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Price – how much does a backyard ice rink cost?

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A backyard mini arena

The price of your rink depends on the size and the materials you use to build it or set it up. If you do it yourself, the main costs for constructing a backyard rink are the building materials, such as the boards, bracings and liner, plus water for the initial surface and resurfacing. If you are on a very tight budget and/or a talented handyman, you can get supplies at your local hardware store and make the boards yourself – the aforementioned plywood is a cheap option here, but other woods might last you longer. More sophisticated and studier boards can be bought as part of backyard ice rink kits, but will set you back at least a couple of hundred US dollars, depending on the size of your dream rink.

If you want to beat the weather with a refrigerated rink, you are looking at a whole different price dimension in terms of initial installation costs, maintenance and operating costs (water and energy). Refrigerated rinks are by far the most expensive option among the three introduced here. Even just the recommended excavation can cost you up to $ 2,000 USD, while the rink itself will set you back around $ 25,000 USD (operating costs not included).

So what does a synthetic ice rink cost? Synthetic rinks are significantly cheaper than refrigerated systems and premium quality products start at under $ 2,000 USD. If you compare the initial purchase price for the raw materials of a DIY rink and the panels of a synthetic backyard rink of the same size, the DIY rink will be cheaper. Smaller synthetic rinks, however, are quite affordable and similarly priced to larger DIY rinks, so you could consider the tradeoff between a larger rink that only works in low temperatures or a smaller rink you can use in any climate and anywhere. In the end, you might find the higher initial investment of an artificial ice rink worthwhile, considering that you can use it all year round and for many years to come.
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The verdict – the best backyard ice rink for you

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Synthetic backyard pad with self-made boards

So what is the best backyard ice rink for you? If you enjoy building things from scratch and want to go old school with your rink, you might want to opt for a classic winter season DIY rink – stop by the hardware store, get supplies (keep the tradeoff between price and durability of materials in mind) and start building. Then wait for the right weather conditions (freezing cold, but no snow) before you fill up your rink with water. If you are not much of a handyman, a backyard ice rink kit can come in handy. It comes with all the materials and instructions needed, so you just need to set it up.

A refrigerated rink can extend your winter season slightly and is fun to skate on, but you will need a very thick wallet!

If you want to use your rink all year round for an increased ice time and that extra edge, synthetic ice panels are the way to go. They come as complete turnkey solutions and can be installed in no time without any expertise. Offering maximum versatility, you can set them up anywhere, even indoors, and maintenance requirements are minimal. Make sure to opt for a high quality product (high glide factor, good glide and grip ratio, low abrasion and minimal shavings) that allows you to replicate all biometric movements authentically like on conventional ice.

We hope this article will help you to make an informed decision and get started on your own backyard ice rink right away!

Developed from athletes for athletes, Glice synthetic ice is a Swiss premium quality product that offers the highest glide factor of the industry at 98% and is the preferred choice of pros like Roman Josi. Get in touch for more information and offers!
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