Bladerunners: Outdoor ice rinks taking root in Steamboat
January 7, 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Sure, Steamboat Springs is working on adding a second sheet of ice to complement Howelsen Ice Arena, but that hasn't stopped locals from building their own rinks at home. Diminutive, rustic and perhaps not up to code, these homespun rinks range from flooded backyards to board-lined enclosures below decks. Some have trees to dodge, garage walls for boards and pumps coming out of ponds. What they all share is their owners' love of ice.
The Rowse house
For Tim Rowse, turning a pond outside his new home at the base of Buff Pass into a rink was a gimme.
"It was natural," said Rowse. "The property has a pond, so I thought, 'Well, I have to make it into a rink.'"
To start, he scraped the snow off, cut a hole in the ice with a chainsaw and then ran a sump pump in it for four hours.
"All the workers on the house heard the chainsaw and came over," he said.
He then let it freeze overnight and repeated the process, four times.
"It was a lot of work, but it got easier each time," Rowse said.
The only real problem came from the pump's positioning.
"At one end, the outflow was restricted, and the ice remained mushy because of the upward pressure on it," Rowse said. "This year, I put the skating area and hole closer to the outlet and used a bigger hose."
Nevertheless, the result was far from a rinky-dink rink. It has good ice, generous snow banks and expansive views. Rowse uses it for impromptu Christmas broomball tournaments and pick-up hockey games — at least until the sun melts it come March.
"I grew up outside Boston playing pond hockey all the time," Rowse said. "If you have a pond at your house, it's totally worth it. But, I'm learning as I go."
The Paoli compound
With two children in local hockey programs, the rink in the backyard of Jen and Chris Paoli's home on Missouri Avenue gets more use than his TV room inside. Which is why he also turned his two-car, detached garage into a rinkside "rec center" with blade-safe floor mats, TV, a hot chocolate machine and couch for changing skates.
"It's as easy of pond hockey as you can get," said Paoli, calling last year's maiden rink voyage a resounding success and this year’s expanded version an even bigger one. "The kids hang out there more than they do in our home."
Paoli got his wooden boards and clamps from former home-rink-master Blair McNamara and, last year, cut a 100-foot by 40-foot liner in half to hold the water. He then stretched the liner out, "filled it like a kiddie pool with water" and let it freeze. This year, he upped his game.
"I used the other half this year and made it twice as big," Paoli said, adding they had to take out two trees and flatten the ground to accommodate the bigger rink.
Last year was a little more problematical.
"Our yard was a little sloped — it's about 8 inches deep on one side and 3 on the other," he said.
Last year's dry weather added another downfall.
"I had to go out all the time in my Sorels with a spaghetti strainer to get rid of leaves and twigs," Paoli said. "Anything dark absorbs heat pretty quickly. A tiny acorn will melt a hole through."
While he was expecting it to be a "rather tortuous" endeavor, it went easier than expected — down to adding outdoor construction lights for hockey under the stars and outdoor speakers for cranking tunes while practicing your toe-drag. And the result is impressive: a 30- by 60-foot rink — and deluxe changing room — with goals, shooter tutors, targets and more that keep neighborhood kids hockey happy.
"You can play three-on-three on it pretty well," said Paoli.
When conditions permit, head out to Steamboat II in the dead of winter, and you'll likely find everyone from tots and teens to ambitious adults playing pick-up hockey on its local rink. Operated by the Steamboat II Metropolitan District, the ice rink comes complete with foot-high boards, two goals (positioned under the basketball hoops) and an outside bench and San-o-let. Without shade or refrigeration, it's weather-dependent with ice usually lasting from December through February. But all bets are off come a warm spell (last year's thaw ended its run before Valentine's Day) or snowfall like the town has experienced this year.
Still, it's one of the best outdoor rinks in town, wringing much-needed energy out of kids before they settle into the confines of home.
The Maltby arena
Play two-on-two on this small backyard rink in Old Town, and you might be able to scrub your defender off on a tree. Built in the backyard of electrician Don Maltby's home a slap shot away from Soda Creek Elementary School, the rink offers the extra obstacles of three different trees to dodge on any break-away. Not that you'll skate too far: the lone goal — a piece of plywood with metal rings hanging off as targets — is only about 20 feet away.
"You definitely try not to hit the trees," said Maltby, a longtime local who grew up playing hockey in Michigan. "But, you get the hang of where they are."
This year marks the fourth year Maltby will build his rink, and he's hoping for longevity. The first year, his ice lasted until mid-March. Even with a cable strung above holding a tarp he can pull across for shade, an invention he added in year two, a warm spell in 2017 ended it in February. Last year, it made it until a week after Valentine's Day.
"The shade tarp helped a lot," he said. "That was a good addition."
Maltby's construction process is different than the typical flood-a-liner approach. Since his yard isn't level, water runs off a tarp. "You need snow at the beginning as a base," he says. "I pack it in to make a nice hard layer and then flood it with the hose."
Once the ice is set, he'll shovel off any additional snow that falls, and flood it periodically to keep it smooth. All that's left is dodging trees.
The Keane complex
This home off Club House Circle thwarts two of an outdoor rink's biggest foes: snow and sun. It’s located underneath the main deck of the house, keeping sun and snow off the ice below. That means less shoveling for owner Larry Keane, more shade for the surface and more ice time for kids Millie, 9, and Aidan, 11, and their hot chocolate-drinking friends. The rink is about 20 feet wide and 40 feet long, meaning plenty of room for comfortable games of three-on-three. Since the home is high on a hillside, it also spells views of Steamboat on every face-off.
"The kids love it," said mom Christine Keane. "They're out there all the time. And it's better than watching TV."
Larry got the rink started three years ago with a plastic liner and boards and even added synthetic plastic, so the kids can use it year round. It's all added up to one of the best below-deck rinks in town.
"We had some puddles for a while early last year, but all in all, it's turned out great," Christine said.
To reach Eugene Buchanan, call 970-871-4276 or email ebuchanan@SteamboatPilot.com.