Backyard ice rinks are something of an annual tradition across the Upper Midwest. This year, though, interest in rink building has soared as families look for activities to get through the cold winter months.
In Minneapolis, Andy Small — father to two young kids — has been working on a rink with his cousin Adam Ciardelli. By early December, they’d constructed a small frame out of two-by-fours and plywood, supported by cinder blocks around the edge.
It’s nothing too fancy, but the prospect of having a place to skate right out the front door was hugely exciting for the family.
Hockey has been on pause here for much of the season, though it has started up again in some places. Small said it has been difficult to find activities for his two kids to get involved in safely, particularly as the days got colder and darker. He has watched friends construct backyard rinks in the past and decided that this year, it was time to try his hand.
“All the kids play hockey — my kids, my cousin’s kids, a lot of the neighborhood kids,” Small said. “So we thought, this is the year to do it.”
Families looking to take their installation process up a notch can purchase specialty parts from a number of suppliers, among them a company called NiceRink. In a normal year, NiceRink President Jim Stoller said, he might plan for 10 to 15% growth. This year, he said, that figure is in the triple digits.
“Fortunately for us, we got the COVID bump and not the COVID slump,” he said.
NiceRink works with a network of local dealers and installers. One of those firms in the Twin Cities area, Warner’s Outdoor Solutions, has seen demand grow 30 to 40% this year, said Jim Bever, who oversees Warner’s ice rink business.
“It’s been incredible,” Bever said. Even local restaurants have been calling, looking to convert parking lots into rinks for the winter season.
While some are hiring professionals, many are turning to friends and family members for expertise.
In Duluth, Minnesota, experienced rink-builder Allen Ratai said friends have been calling him all season, looking for advice on their first rinks. Some are taking on modest projects, he said, but others are going all out.
“I mean, we had the excavator and Bobcat bringing in hundreds of yards of dirt and leveling yards,” he said, referring to construction machinery.
It’s been fun, Ratai said, having a project to work on with friends and their kids — a silver lining of an otherwise tough year.
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