Icebox of the County
November 29, 2016
Creating and maintaining a reliable sheet of ice takes skill, finesse, and patience—much like learning to skate. For the crew at the Icebox, this season consisted of waiting until the time was right to begin making ice, and now the time has come.
The Icebox will, hopefully, be enclosed and refrigerated in the future, but in the mean time, we will have to rely on the hard work of the rink's staff. The Icebox is completely weather dependent as far as the temperature it takes for water to freeze, but other factors are controlled by the hard work of the Icebox crew.
The Icebox has many programs that rely on it, such as the Fraser Valley Hockey Association, adult hockey leagues, and the open ice programs, which can bring in a lot of income to the town of Fraser. It is extremely difficult to compete as a hockey team without a consistent ice surface. This can make a hockey program struggle compared to programs from the Front Range and Denver, who have reliable ice year-round.
Without refrigeration, making ice acceptable for competitive hockey is a difficult process. Austin DeGarmo, Fraser Valley Rec's Parks and Athletics Manager, credits the staff at the ice arena in Breckenridge for teaching him and his staff a lot about making ice. The Fraser Valley has had a close relationship with Breckenridge as the youth hockey teams used to practice there. Breckenridge even sold the Icebox a 1979 Zamboni for $1 to get them started in their ice making endeavors.
The process begins with waiting: waiting for the temperature to drop low enough that it is possible to make ice. A concrete slab is the foundation underneath the ice and must get to around 17 degrees before the staff can even consider making ice. They then begin by spraying extremely thin layers of water on top of the slab in order to get the ice to bond. After the base layers are on, a paint application mixed with water is laid down to further the bonding experience of the ice. To get a grasp on how long this process really takes: it will take about 8-10 hours to make one eighth of an inch of ice.
The next step is to lay the vinyl for the lines and face-off circles for hockey. Every line must be measured properly, and absolutely flat so the vinyl does not stick above the ice. Many ice arenas use paint to lay the lines, circles, and creases, of a hockey rink, but the Icebox has a huge factor: weather. If the ice melts, the paint lines will run. Laying the vinyl for the lines takes a minimum of six hours (the fastest time the Icebox crew has done it). A misting process is then conducted over the lines to keep them in place.
Then up to 75 more layers are established on top during the "flooding" process. During the flooding, the crews spray in different directions (North to South, and East to West) to ensure an even coating. This process is documented so the crew can rotate the directions accordingly.
It is not until this whole process is complete that the Zamboni can finally be brought out to resurface the ice. Wear-and-tear on ice is constant from both hockey players and recreational skaters. Like the grooming of a ski run, the ice surface is Zambonied after skating sessions to resurface and smooth everything out. Throughout the season the crew will drill holes and measure the depth of the ice in different areas to calculate how evenly their ice is spreading.
The Icebox crew is made up of around six employees who work hard during early mornings and late nights to allow the residents of the Fraser Valley to enjoy skating. Usually about five people work at the Icebox that are trained to drive the Zamboni, which is a difficult process to learn. DeGarmo trains the employees himself, and pointed out that it is not for everyone.
Many factors can impede the process of making ice such as snow blowing into the open walls of the Icebox. What many people don't understand is that it takes a series of cold nights and cold days for the ice making process to be efficient. Just because it was well below freezing at night, if the next day is upwards of 50 degrees, the ice will suffer.
DeGarmo said the process can be very frustrating, but is worth it in the end when the youth and adult hockey leagues are able to play. "My main motivation is to get the kids on the ice," he said. There is no set date for the opening of the Icebox, but know that the crews are doing everything they can to make it happen.