How to build your own backyard ice rink

Ready to put a different spin on winter fun? With some inexpensive building materials and a little help from Mother Nature you can turn your backyard into a skating rink.

Do-it-yourself ice rinks can be made to fit almost any yard — from a small skating patch squeezed behind the garage to a wide sheet of ice worthy of hosting a neighborhood hockey tournament. Once the temperatures drop, here’s how to give your yard a frozen makeover.

Step 1: Choose the right location

For the best rink location, scope out a relatively flat spot in your yard that is within reach of your garden hose. Ideally, this will also be a relatively shady spot, or at least one that doesn’t receive much direct sun during the day.

Step 2: Measure your rink

Use garden stakes and string to plot out your rink size; measure the dimensions. Buy enough PVC tubing and joints (both straight and corner joints) to create the desired size and shape. While you are at the home improvement store, pick up a piece of white vinyl tarp, cut large enough to overlap the rink by about a foot on each side. For example, if you are making a 20-feet x20-feet rink, have the tarp cut to at least 21-feet x21-feet. Important note: the tarp must be white. Blue or black tarps are more likely to absorb sunlight and heat up, which will put your rink at risk.

Step 3: Pack the snow

If there is snow on the ground, prep the rink area by shoveling until the snow depth is only a few inches. Use the lawn roller to flatten the remaining snow (or put your kids to work stamping down the snow in their boots).

Step 4: Lay out the rink

Put PVC tubing in place to follow the string you laid out. Connect pieces with joints to create a frame. Drape the tarp over this and push down into place to create a liner. The extra liner width should be wrapped around the PVC and tucked underneath. This helps the liner stay in place.

Step 5: Flood the rink

Hook up your garden hose and flood rink until the water level is approximately 2 to 3 inches deep. And then you wait. If New Hampshire happens to be in the grips of an arctic blast, your rink might be ready within 24 to 48 hours. Check the rink for cooling and freezing, but try not to go out for a test spin until you are certain the ice is completely frozen. Skating on ice that still has water or air bubbles trapped inside can make it crack and break.

Step 6: Skate!

Set up a wooden bench near the rink for lacing up, or pack the snowbanks around the rink into natural seats for changing skates. If you will play hockey on the rink, set up 24-foot wooden boards around the rink, wedged between the PVC pipe and snow bank (or held in place with wooden braces). The wooden barrier can stop pucks from disappearing into snowbanks and slowing down game play. Want to get really fancy? Rig up an outdoor flood light for night skating.

Also, be prepared for an adjustment period. Because your backyard rink is subject to the elements, expect the ice surface to contain natural ripples or bumpiness in places. Kids (and adults) accustomed to skating indoors on a groomed rink may need to get used to the “wild ice” in your backyard.

Step 7: Maintain the ice

Ready to become a human Zamboni? Once your ice is scratched and pitted after a day of fun, flood the rink with a thin coat of water and push the squeegee along the surface to work water into cracks and crevices and push away icy slush. Allow the surface to completely freeze before skating resumes. Once you see the wet sheen fade to what looks like a matte glaze, the ice is ready to go.

Step 8: Spring cleanup

Backyard ice rinks can withstand fairly warm daytime temperatures (40s, and even 50s) as long as temperatures overnight are below freezing. Once the spring warmup begins, your ice will start cracking and melting and will no longer be stable for skating. When you’re back to the puddle of water you started with, spring cleanup is a breeze. Unwrap the tarp from around the frame and lift the frame. Take the frame apart and lift tarp to help water run off. Take apart the frame and store. If possible, give your tarp a chance to completely dry before packing up so it doesn’t get moldy. The ground underneath will spring back as the weather warms. Having an ice rink on top of it all winter is really no different than being snow-covered for the season. 

Jacqueline Tourville is a longtime contributor to Parenting New Hampshire.

Categories: Winter Guide