Families in Saskatchewan are using a tried-and-true way to get kids outdoors even on the coldest winter days.
Backyard rinks are popping up in cities and on rural properties across the province, with many builders sharing their designs – failures and successes – online.
Rob Swallow has built a 16 x 22-foot rink in the backyard of his Regina home. He said anyone getting started should do some research first.
“Start slow, start small and build your way up,” said Swallow, who bought a kit for his son’s first backyard rink last year.
“And be patient with flooding.”
Swallow has some background with making ice – he grew up in a small town with a natural ice rink and would help flood it with his dad and brother.
“What I like to do is just flood a little bit at a time just to slowly build the ice. I find it builds a bit stronger ice,” he said, adding the process took around five days to complete.
“-15 C to -20 C weather seems to be the best, you can flood almost every four hours then,” he said.
As for dealing with warmer days, Swallow recommended leaving the rink alone and letting any water from the melt freeze again when temperatures cool.
“A place for kids on our street and friends of ours to come over and just have a skate and bring people together, have a conversation,” – Rob Swallow
To keep the ice smooth, the father of two uses a rolling cooler of hot water – affixed with a PVC pipe attachment and towel – that acts like a mini Zamboni.
As a personal touch, the bench used by the kids to gear up is the family’s old seats from Taylor Field.
Backyard rinks still a fixture in Saskatchewan
Posts on social media show a flurry of activity in backyard rink-making across Saskatchewan over the last month.
On Twitter, accounts such as @TheBackyardRink retweet and share outdoor rinks from across the country.
Swallow said among his own friends, he’s seeing more parents getting creative with backyard rinks.
“It’s a place for kids on our street and friends of ours to come over and just have a skate and bring people together, have a conversation,” he said.
“Parents can be sitting around having hot chocolate and just watching the kids have fun out there.”
Swallow’s wife, Amber, said she enjoys how the rink brings people together – despite being apprehensive at the start.
“I thought (Rob) was crazy at first,” she said. “But when I saw how much use the rink got, it’s great. (Our son) Charlie loves it. Rob and Charlie will spend hours out here skating together.”
The couple also has a younger daughter, who they hope will be learning to skate on the family’s backyard rink, next season.
“If she’s anything like her brother, she’ll love skating,” Amber said.