This blog is a collection of my thoughts and experiences from ten years as a skate dad. For those of you sitting with your jackets in the bleachers, first I salute you, but second I want to give you an honest sense of what you are in for and what to expect. Ice skating is both a trying and a glorious sport, but it doesn't happen without the special group of folks who cheer, support, and console the participants. This is dedicated to you.

Friday, December 22, 2017

- vapor

After your kid has been competing for a while you get a pretty good sense of the variety of ice rinks. Aside from the big mix in amenities and heating for the parents in the stands, you soon recognize that all rinks share a sublime difference that has more of an impact on how your kid skates. At first you may think it has to do with the Zamboni or the rink's temperature. Somehow they must be affecting the ice's surface. But after years of sitting in a wide variety of rinks I suspect the difference is something deeper, more sublime, and environmentally holistic.

Consider this: over the lifetime of an ice surface, in between complete melts, a couple years of running the Zamboni a couple dozen times over the ice daily, probably deposits a good 20 feet of additional vertical surface above the freezer pipes. Yeah it also scrapes off a bit of the snow on top. Still, how come the ice doesn't rise right up out of the building? The answer my friend, is that ice evaporates.

Natural ice sources, like a lake, have a resupply of water from underneath. The rink however has to always add water on the top. So what influences how the ice evaporates? I am sure there must be some lengthy technical article about this in some trade publication (is there such a thing as Rink Maintenance Monthly?), but my guess is that rinks strike a balance between four variables: temperature, humidity, dehydration rates from the mechanical air conditioning, and the quality of the rink enclosure's "vapor barrier."

Although I can never quite come up with a simple rule that ties them all together, I am quite confident that the vapor barrier is the key determinant to good skating. Compared to a building that has been "repurposed," modern rinks specifically designed for the sport are hence both fifty times more comfortable and have much better ice conditions. It's all about the vapor.


ed note: After writing this I did a bit of research and found this PDF, which explains a lot.


  1. I read the PDF. I am still totally mystified because my brain hemispheres are not wired to process technical stuff. But I am sure glad that someone has figured it out! My rink obviously did not read the PDF, so when I have a bad day on the ice, I chalk it up to the ice. And age. And brain hemispheres that do not process technical stuff. Not to mention the body type that the laws of physics you so carefully explained in another post have dictated will never do for good skating. Poor excuses for sure, but at least I can walk away privately amused by the knowledge that when I do have those good days, then I can turn the tables and laugh at the ice, old age, faulty electrical wiring, and the laws of physics.

    Told you I'd keep reading if you kept writing!

  2. Hi Anon,

    I thought that PDF was boffo -- it confirmed what I had suspected but somewhat reversed: the rink battle to manage temperature and humidity involves /reducing/ the inside humidity.

    One of the coldest rinks I've stood around is in Simi Valley; apparently a converted former industrial-park building. Even with a hat and scarf I'd still have to step outside every half hour.

    I've been to the old downtown Pasadena ice rink where at times the inside of the rink is shrouded in heavy fog (heavy as in you couldn't see across the width of the ice!). Eh, rather dangerous for freestyles, I'd imagine LOL.

    The best part of the PDF was this gem... "All locker rooms and restrooms should be constructed from masonry block with an epoxy-type paint applied as a finish. These areas must withstand a high degree of abuse from hockey players and the public."


    1. ...and for all that technology no one has yet figured out how to deal with that locker room smell peculiar to hockey. At least the washrooms will be intact!

      Thought that was a gem myself. A great mind at work there, eh?

  3. The pdf is great! It's an ongoing mystery why two rinks a couple of miles apart will be so wildly variant in temp and comfort on the same day. The other reasons that the rinks don't just fill up with ice is first, every "cut" is just that-- they remove a layer of ice from the top and relay a thin film of water, which then freezes. The other reason is that a rink will completely melt down the ice every 1 to 2 years, fix the substrate, and then rebuild the ice from the concrete up.