Ice guardians: volunteers crucial for managing Saskatoon outdoor rinks
If you enjoy skating outside in the winter, chances are you appreciate a well-maintained rink.
There are more than 50 outdoor rinks in Saskatoon to pick from, but what you may not know is it’s up to community associations and dedicated volunteers to make sure they’re in decent shape.
For the last three years, John Holgate has volunteered his time to maintain the ice at the City Park neighbourhood rink.
“Shoveling snow outside is usually something I enjoy – especially when I get to skate around,” said Holgate, rink coordinator for the City Park Community Association.
“I like the idea of a community rink and I thought it’d be fun.”
After a snowfall, Holgate said he’s usually out clearing within 24 hours.
So far this season he’s spent more than 40 hours outside not only clearing snow, but flooding the rink as well, not an easy task especially when conditions aren’t ideal.
“There’s definitely a Goldilocks zone,” he explained. “The best temperature to flood in terms of our comfort and the ice is usually around -10 to -15 [degrees Celsius].”
“If it’s warmer than that you can’t really flood because the ice wont set, and if it’s colder than that the ice will set too fast and your hose will freeze.”
It’s not always a solo effort; often times Holgate will enlist some help, or get a surprise hand from the community.
“It feels a little bit like a mini-Christmas when that happens, because I’m pretty pumped,” he exclaimed.
Josh Remai is a rink coordinator for Queen Elizabeth Exhibition Haultain Community Association, which runs two outdoor rinks. He ensures people are available for regular maintenance.
“Scrape the ice, shovel the snow – we’ve got snowblowers at each location – keep the snow off and also do a once a week flood,” Remai said.
He agrees keeping the ice in good shape is a delicate balance.
“When it’s -30 or -35, and we usually do that stuff at night when people aren’t using the rinks so it’s even colder, the lines will freeze very very quickly,” Remai explained.
Warm temperature swings in Saskatoon this winter also meant closing rinks for a few days, so ice wouldn’t get wrecked and people wouldn’t get hurt.
“Anything really above zero – it really affects the ground underneath the ice as well,” Remai said.
“We’ll get what we call ‘volcanoes’ that start coming out of the ice – it’ll break the ice and crack it quite substantially.”
He added it’s the sun that does the most damage in warm temperatures.
“As long as it’s cloudy then you can get above zero and it makes for a pleasant skating experience.”
As for Holgate, he said his efforts are a labour of love.
“When I come out on a Saturday and there’s a bunch of kids, and a bunch of families, and a bunch of people playing hockey – it sounds a little cliché, but that does usually make it worth it.”
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