While the strength and skill of great ice skaters wearing colorful ice jerseys is immediately obvious, it's easy to overlook the remarkable surface that makes it all possible. But as it turns out, varying the characteristics of indoor ice rink just a little bit can make the difference between a gold-medal performance and an embarrassing spill.
Indoor ice rink s are used for all sorts of sports and recreational activities, including hockey, figure skating and speed skating, and in all of these sports the quality of the ice makes a big difference.
Forming a good skating surface of ice rink isn't as simple as making a tray of ice cubes. Freezing a rink correctly takes no less than a dozen stages, with some stages laying ice that may be as thin as 1/32 of an inch (0.8 mm). Some layers require paint to create an attractive background and, in the case of hockey, provide clear markings. And ice that's best for one sport may be completely unacceptable for another.
The history of indoor ice rink, the creation of a new ice surface, the rink's characteristics and logistics, and rink maintenance. Once you understand everything that's involved, the science and technology of ice rinks is amazing.
Years before hockey or the Winter Olympics, ice skating was a means of getting across the frozen waterways in northern Europe. It was only when ice became available year-round that sports such as hockey and figure skating took off.
The success of modern ice rinks owes a lot to Lester and Joe Patrick, two brothers who created hockey leagues in Canada in the early 1900s. On Christmas Day 1912, the brothers opened Canada's first indoor ice rink in Victoria, Canada. The arena cost $110,000 to build and seated 4,000 people. Three days later, the Patrick brothers opened another arena in Vancouver, Canada. This was a more expensive arena -- $210,000 to build -- and it could hold more than 10,000 people. Underneath the ice was the world's then-largest refrigeration and ice-making system.
Over the next few decades, the Patricks were responsible for creating arenas all across the northwest United States and throughout western Canada. Today, the United States has more than 1,700 ice rinks. New arenas today can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build.
The main difference in an ice rink, other than sheer size, is that the refrigerant doesn't cool the ice directly. Instead, it cools brinewater, a calcium-chloride solution, which is pumped through an intricate system of pipes underneath the ice. In most rinks, the pipes are embedded in a concrete or sand base (more on this later).
Since the Raleigh arena is home to the Carolina Hurricanes, the rink must meet all NHL regulations. This includes shape and size requirements, surround requirements, maintenance requirements and temperature requirements. Even during non-hockey events, the rink must be properly maintained.
Making an ice rink isn't as simple as flooding the floor with gallons of water. The crew must apply the water carefully and slowly, in order to insure ideal thickness. An ice surface that is too thick requires more energy to keep frozen and is prone to getting soft on the top. A surface that is too thin is also dangerous because skaters risk cutting straight through the ice.