Free Skate: How to Build a Backyard Ice Rink

by Adirondack Life | February 2022, Recreation

For some Adirondackers, the ultimate in North Country living is being able to ski out the back door. But for Harold Slater, in Jay, it’s about “putting your skates on in the house and heading right out onto your own personal rink.”

Harold first experimented with making a skating rink for his kids eight years ago. “Our driveway was a sheet of ice to begin with, so I thought it might work.”

He says it turned out to be an easy process, one “you can make as simple or as grand as you want.” Usually around mid-December, when temperatures are in the mid-20s and there are a few inches of snow on the ground, Harold, his wife, Karen, and their boys Harry, Van and Morgan “stomp out” where they’re going to make the rink. Next, they use shovels to smooth the snow, erasing boot treads and other bumps—“smooth as we can, like frosting a cake.” They then use a retractable hose to mist the packed snow into slush. After that freezes overnight, they glaze it again with a layer of mist. “The misting is the Zamboni,” says Harold, who adds that subsequent maintenance is minimal, just shoveling snow from the ice and misting when needed.

Each year the Slaters’ rink gets bigger—last year it was hourglass-shaped and lasted until St. Patrick’s Day. It was also a welcome activity during COVID restrictions, when Harold and Karen weren’t comfortable bringing their kids to the local ski hill. Friday nights “we set up lights, ate pizza pie and hit the rink,” says Harold.

“We’re glad we’re able to do this for our kids,” adds Karen. “It’ll be something for them to remember.”

Chris Ericson says his family’s ice rink came about so his son, CJ, “could have a place to practice that wasn’t our basement, which was getting destroyed.” Flying pucks had punched holes in the drywall. So Chris and his wife, Catherine, had a 15-by-30-foot concrete pad poured in the backyard of their Lake Placid home. Chris worked with his neighbor Mike Beaney—who is a contractor and, with Chris, a Lake Placid Pee-Wee hockey coach—to build two-by-six-inch mini boards around the concrete. They laid down a heavy plastic tarp and, just before a stretch of clear, cold nights last November, flooded the form with three inches of water.    

It froze nicely, says Chris, and with a homemade Zamboni that Mike constructed from PVC pipe and a towel to resurface the ice, the rink could be used for most of the winter.

CJ spent hours on the ice, shoveling it whenever it snowed, and his sister, Grace, a figure skater and coach, would sometimes use it too. “It got the kids out of the house when it was easy to be in the house for months in a row,” says Chris.

And the rink helped with CJ’s game. “He’d shoot 500 pucks a day—his shots got harder and more accurate.”

Chris adds, “We had about 75 pucks to start the season, by the end we had five—the other 70 were strewn around the yard and buried in snow. In spring, when everything melted, it felt like when the tide goes out and people go searching for clams.” 


  Watch the weather forecast for a good stretch of clear days—at least 3—with highs below freezing.

  Find a flattish spot in the yard near a water source. Check the slope and level out with fill.

  Don’t build over your septic tank or leach field.

  Use a white liner—black will absorb heat and melt the ice.

  If you use a garden hose, don’t forget to drain it after use, so it doesn’t freeze.

  Though individual conditions vary, the recommended ice thickness is at least 3 inches.

  Keep the rink clear of snow, as well as twigs, leaves and other debris that can absorb sunlight.

  Pack slush into cracks before misting to resurface.

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