The coolest job in town

Making ice at the arena offers challenges in hot weather

While people are putting on their swim suits and going to the beach, the City of Trail’s arena crew is bundled up in layers and long sleeves.

Cominco Arena staff has been busy this week getting the surface all set for the beginning of the hockey and skating season.

But making ice for an NHL-size rink is a lot different that making a tray of ice for drinks at home.

The cooling plant at the rink is working overtime to cool down the concrete floor to a frigid -10 C, which, according to foreman Dave Rugg, can be a challenge with such hot temperatures outdoors.

“With it being 37 degrees outside, it is warmer in (the arena) and everything takes longer to dry and freeze,” he explained.

To keep the flooring cold enough to freeze water, the cement floor is filled with plastic pipes moving a cooling agent under the rink, spread out approximately every four inches.

“You have a supply line and a return line which is full of brine (calcium chloride and water),” said Rugg. “It goes throughout the floor, cooling, and is picking up heat as it goes. The plant boils off the heat and sends it back out cooled down. It is refrigeration. The pipes are in the concrete and then we flood the area and let it freeze.”

Workers flood the ice with a little bit of water and, after it freezes, start the process of creating a recognizable hockey rink.

“We call it whitewashing,” said Rugg. “It’s a product that we spray on. We do three coats going different directions to get full coverage and that is the white colour under the ice. There is a layer of ice first, then we whitewash, and then we seal it.”

After sealing the whitewash, crews get out the red and blue paint.

“We paint the lines, then the circles, put our logos down and then add more ice on top,” explained Rugg, adding that the top layer of ice can’t be too thin.

“We are able to come out with our Zamboni and shave a little bit off. If you shave throughout the day and you didn’t have enough ice over the lines, we would be shaving the lines off.”

After all is said and done, the ice is only just over an inch thick, and there is a very good reason for that.

“The more ice you have on the floor, the more your plant has to work,” said Rugg. “The harder it is to freeze. This freezes from the ground up and sometimes we’ll get wet spots on the ice.”

This year’s preparations for skaters started earlier than most years, simply because staff is swamped with annual holidays and events at other city facilities.

“We are starting a little bit earlier than normal because Monday is a statutory holiday, so you sort of lose a day there,” said Rugg. “We have a swim regionals this weekend and a provincial ball tournament this weekend, so basically we lose three days of prepping.”

They have found a way to speed up the freezing by working when temperatures cool off outside.

“We try and (work) throughout the night as well,” he said. “It took a day and a half to get the concrete down to temperature.”

The first blades will hit the ice on Aug. 10 during the annual Champion Hockey School.