ice, ice skating

One of the first cooking lessons you have as a kid is to make ice, you just freeze water. But making ice that hundreds of people can skate on? That’s way more complicated. The Recreation Center’s ice rink, recently re-iced, requires both water and science before it becomes the smooth, white surface needed for professional athletes, little kids and young teenagers-in-love to skate across with ease.

Step 1 The surface underneath the ice is one of the most crucial steps to success. Older rinks have a sand base, which takes days to completely freeze and sounds like the beach-gone-wrong. Thankfully the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center’s ice rinks have a concrete base, which makes cleaning and freezing them simpler. The concrete slab is cooled to a temperature of 14 to 17 degrees before it’s ready for step two.

Step 2 Now it’s time for the ice. The first layer is crucial, because if the ice and concrete don’t bond, then the entire slab of ice becomes unanchored, which is about as dangerous as it sounds. To make sure that initial layer of ice is firmly secured to the concrete, workers spray water in a fine mist to keep it from being too thick. That ensures that the concrete and ice are fastened to each other. The next layers of ice are thicker and also contain the white paint color that prevents you from seeing the concrete base.

Step 3 Plain, white ice doesn’t cut it for hockey games, though. The lines and logos you see under your feet used to be painted on by hand and would take a day or two to finish, but times have changed for the better. Now, all you have to do is lay down a big, pre-cut piece of plastic mesh and slowly cover it with mist. The process now takes three to four hours, lightning speed compared to the slow process of painting the ice.

The old way of getting lines and logos on the ice? Painting. It took forever and it was maddening. Plastic logos make today's rebuild of the ice much easier.
The old way of getting lines and logos on the ice? Painting. It took forever and it was maddening. Plastic logos make today’s rebuild of the ice much easier.

Step 4 Learning about the last step will help you make better ice cubes. When cold water is used, it sometimes freezes before it can spread itself out evenly over the ice. That’s why the final layer needs to be hot water, so that the surface is even and safer for skating. The Zamboni scoots around the rink, layering hot water onto hot water, creating the smooth, slick surface you’ve come to know and the uncoordinated have come to dread. Why does this help you make better ice cubes? Because using hot water eliminates bubbles and makes them crystal clear, just like that final layer at the ice rink.

Creating the ice we skate on isn’t simple and involves hard work, a bit of time and a careful eye for temperature control. But once it’s done, thanks to the employees at the Recreation Center, it’s smooth gliding for the rest of us. And now that you’ve learned the secret for perfect ice cubes, so is making Pinterest-worthy iced tea.