Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Ice lessons learned from a backyard hockey rink

Even on a small backyard ice rink, the quality and thickness of the ice isn’t uniform. It’s a good reminder that lake ice is much the same, and that fishermen never should take its thickness and quality for granted. (Photo courtesy of Joe Albert)

Anyone who knows me even a little bit probably also knows that we have a skating rink in our backyard. At about 40 feet by 30 feet it isn’t particularly large, but creating it is a pretty big undertaking and takes up a lot of my time in late fall and winter. So, I talk about it a lot. (Next time we chat, feel free to say, “Yeah, I know you have a rink, and I know it’s a lot of work.” I’ll take the hint and move on.)

This is either the fourth or fifth year we’ve had the rink. I’m less than graceful when wearing shoes on a hard surface and something else altogether on skates on the ice, so I don’t skate. But I spend a lot of time on the rink because the kids and their friends enjoy it, and I also spend a lot of time thinking about it.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s that making ice isn’t as simple as turning on the hose and waiting for cold weather. Put in too much water while it’s too cold and you get a thin and brittle top layer that cracks underfoot. Leave a hose running on top of the ice for too long – even one delivering cold water – and you’ll quickly make a hole. And if there’s a nick in the liner – even one so small as to be nearly invisible – you’ll lose a bunch of water and waste a bunch of effort. That’s particularly true if the water continues to drain but ice forms elsewhere on the rink. In that case, you’ll have good, thick ice in one spot and break through in the next.

The point is that even on a small backyard skating rink, the ice isn’t uniform. It’s not just one huge block. If you extrapolate that out to the size of a lake – even a small one – that’s even more the case. All sorts of factors, including wind and sun and springs affect the quality of the ice, so 12 inches of ice in one area may give way to 3 inches of ice in another.

With a stretch of brutally cold weather on the way, the ice-fishing season likely will kick into full gear. But no matter how cold it’s been, or how much ice you think there should be, it’s always worth double-checking.

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