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That depends on the rink, the time spent making the ice, but mostly the weather. Over the last thirty years, we have had a season with no rinks and we have had a season as long as 10 weeks. We can only do what Mother Nature allows us to do. In those thirty years, only once were we able to skate on our rinks in March. Normally, by mid-February, the position of the sun in the sky (higher and for longer times) leads to the destruction of the ice.
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The process varies at each site depending on size and type of rink, the water source, the site itself and the existing conditions. A couple of rinks are made on parking lot(s) pavement, but most of are made on turf.
The rinks made on pavement are able to be skated on earlier because none of the water sinks into the ground. However, the downside to pavement is that the sun shines through the ice to the blacktop. This warms the pavement thus melting the ice or slowing the freezing action.
For the rinks on turf, the area must be flat, FROZEN and have little or no snow on it – or the snow must be packed down (to be used as a base). Unfrozen ground just lets the water soak in. Temperatures must be consistently cold to freeze the ground. Once frozen, the water remains on top of the ground. Depending on the site, crews spray water on the ground and allow it to freeze. Depending on the temperatures, crews may be able to stay out and keep adding water to some areas of the rink while the just-watered areas freeze. Lighter coats of water are used to help the water freeze faster. Under good conditions, the worker will spray water while walking backwards for hours and hours. Eventually, dozens (then hundreds) of light coats of water turn into "skateable" ice.
Each site varies and is unique to how long it takes to become safe. Generally, it can take a week (5 to 7 days) or so to build up enough ice for safe skating.
When temperatures warm, understandably the warm temps soften or melt the ice. If the ice is thicker (a foot or more) then the damage may not be as severe. Thinner ice can melt back down to the turf or may not allow snow removal equipment on it. We may have to start over completely. How warm it gets and for how long are huge factors. It stands to reason that warm temps (40+) for nights and days greatly affect the ice. Temps just above freezing will not affect the ice as much. Soft ice is not safe or fun to skate on. Soft ice may allow skates to fall through and potentially hurt the ice and/or the skater.
Warm rain and lots of it, can do extensive of damage to the ice. Light freezing rain may not hurt the ice at all. Many factors: site, temperatures, ice thickness, time of rink season, amount of rain, duration and others factors determine our response.
Keep in mind that the people who make ice also do all of the Parks snow removal. When it snows, the crews are not making ice and instead need to remove the snow from all of the rinks. In order to put water down again on a rink, the snow must be completely gone. Leftover snow, once frozen, may lead to uneven ice. That won’t do. Note: Hockey rinks with boards require blowing or hand-shoveling the snow up and over the boards and out of the rink.
It is our experience that the boarded hockey rinks are, by far, the most used rinks. Therefore, they are the top priority. Other rinks, depending on their location and previous usage, will be worked on as time and personnel permits. Skaters tell us where they like to skate by leaving their skate marks on the ice. When staff gets to the rinks at 5 or 6 am, they can tell if someone or a lot of people were skating the night before. This evidence leads to our prioritization.
Occasionally, a season comes along that allows the growth of a bacterium native to Wisconsin soils. This anaerobic bacterium needs a little warmth, moisture and no oxygen to grow. If the ice is thin over an area of soil that has the bacterium, and the sun warms the ground under the ice, thus cutting off the oxygen - these conditions may allow the bacterium to grow. As it grows, it produces its own heat making the ice above soft. It starts to bulge the ice upward, have a brownish tint to it and it stinks. The bulges expand causing bumps we can’t fix. Although harmless to humans and clothing, the bacterium stinks. This is thanks to Mother Nature again. We have found that if it is really cold early and for a long time during our initial buildup, the ice gets thick enough and does not allow the sun to warm the soil beneath the ice. Thicker ice usually means less bacterial growth.
As the sun gets higher in the sky, its radiance inhibits ice retention, especially effecting boarded hockey rinks. In February, on sunny days, the sun shines on the wooden boards at the rinks. The boards, especially the north side boards, absorb the sunshine and the mass of the structure holds the heat and the nearby ice starts to melt. Unfortunately, even with below freezing temperatures we are not able to combat this.
The terms of “open” or “closed” should only be used to describe the doors of the nearby park warming shelter. None of the rinks are fenced or locked, so all are “open” to the public at all stages of their construction and maintenance. It is up to the skater to determine whether the ice is safe on which to skate. The City of Green Bay Parks, Recreation & Forestry Department website is updated with warming shelter/staffed hours. Again, it is up to the skater to decide if the ice is safe.