There are backyard rinks, and there are Backyard Rinks. Then there is Pete Thalmann’s BACKYARD RINK. Forgive me if I’m shouting.
From the outside, it looks relatively unassuming. A 30’x60′ slab behind the Thalmann’s Massachusetts home, its outward appearance mimics many of the thousands of other backyard rinks that dot the Commonwealth. But beneath the slapping of sticks and swishing of youthful strides…underneath the frozen hydrogen and oxygen (2:1, of course)…buried smartly amidst a laser-flat concrete slab…lies a secret. Snaking throughout the Thalmann’s concrete slab is a a network of small tubes carrying a constant flow of rinkbuilder’s nectar. No, no Labatt’s. I’m talking about glycol.
As defined by science, propylene glycol is “is a colorless, nearly odorless, clear, viscous liquid with a faintly sweet taste, hygroscopic and miscible with water, acetone, and chloroform.” As defined by rinkbuilders, propylene glycol is “that stuff that makes it so you can skate on Thanksgiving.”
And that’s exactly what they do. This past season the Thalmanns skated from November 22nd to March 14th, which is both earlier and later than anyone else I’ve heard. They host an annual family Thanksgiving skate, which is most certainly a tradition shared only by glycol-cooled rinks, and Thalmann’s two boys fight for the Stanley Cup each winter.
So what was the impetus behind the move to glycol?
“I’ve had backyard rinks since the early 1980’s,” says Thalmann. We’ve “always lived in homes with flat lots and easy rink building, until 2001.” Their new house, explains Thalmann, was situated on a steep hillside. With his boys aged 2 and 3, he built a small 8′ x 12′ rink. With that season’s warm temps, they only skated eight days. Pete knew he could do better.
He began researching his options, planning on an overhaul to facilitate a larger rink. He stumbled onto a new company called Custom Ice, Inc, owned by former NHLer Dave Gagner. He priced out a refrigerated setup, and when he realized the price was around the same as a pool install, he dove in.
“I’m an older dad, the boys were very young, the US-Can dollar exchange rate in those days was great, and the rink cost about what a pool would cost, so I rationalized my way to what many would think was an irrational decision… but I’ve never looked back and the family loves our rink.”
How does one build and maintain a chilled rink?
“We start as soon as the leaves are down. The compressors chill liquid glycol (via a heat exchanger) and the glycol (typically at 20 degrees) circulates though small tubes in the concrete pad. Once the pad is chilled, we spray water on the concrete. The containment does not have to water tight as the water freezes in all the seams around the edges. It takes about 1 day to make enough ice to skate. I try to keep the ice thickness at no more than 2 inches so that the system remains efficient.”
Rainy days? They turn the temperature up, allowing the rain to drain off. Warm days? They skate. It’s one of the perks. In fact, good friend Scott Millin skated on Pete’s rink back in December. The day they skated was in the 40’s.
Thalmann estimates that there are more than 50 installs these days in New England alone, but as far as he knows, his was the first. In my opinion, it also has the greatest name:
L’autre Femme. The Other Woman.
That sound you hear is thousands of rinkbuilder’s wives nodding in unison.
The Thalmanns are entered in a video contest hosted by Custom Ice, with the prizes determined by the number of unique views of their video. Take a look at their video below and help them with the contest!