Ice skating is a fun and exciting experience, but in many places, it’s limited to two situations: sufficiently cold winters where a pre-configured rink can be maintained, or renting a professional-grade facility. Hockey facilities exist across the country, but renting time in one can be quite expensive, and they’re very large compared to the needs of most small parties and gatherings.
Thankfully, there’s a third option. You can rent a portable, synthetic ice rink any time of the year, in nearly any location. They offer a ton of flexibility for a relatively low cost and can be set up even in the heat of a Texas summer.
How a Synthetic Ice Rink Works
When we mention a synthetic ice rink, you might be thinking about a huge refrigeration facility, huge machines that strive to keep a thin layer of ice frozen, fighting against the ambient heat.
Such rinks used to be the primary option for anyone looking to set up a summertime ice rink, but they had a lot of drawbacks. They were loud, bulky, heavy, and drew a lot of power to run the cooling machines. They weren’t really in the realm of “rentable for a small party” like a modern synthetic ice rink.
So what makes a synthetic ice rink different? Instead of using cooling machines to freeze water, a synthetic ice rink doesn’t use real ice at all. Instead, they use a solid polymer known as synthetic ice. It’s not frozen, or even cold. You can think of it as a kind of very slippery plastic, designed to mimic real ice as much as possible without the need to keep it cold.
Synthetic ice rinks are made up of a series of panels of this plastic material, which fit together like puzzle pieces in a grid to form a flat, smooth, slippery surface. You can then skate on this surface, whether you’re running a hockey game, setting up a figure skating contest, or just letting kids skate in circles all day.
How Synthetic Ice Rinks Differ from Real Ice
In a real ice rink, there’s a little bit of magic that happens with ice skates. Ice skates, being narrow blades, focus the weight of your body on a small point. This point compresses the ice beneath it, which increases the temperature of that section of ice, usually melting a tiny bit of it. That tiny bit of melting water makes the ice extremely slippery and is how ice skates seem almost frictionless.
Synthetic ice, being a plastic, doesn’t melt. Instead, it’s designed to have an extremely low coefficient of friction, meaning it’s very slippery like ice. Traditionally this is a high-density polyethylene, but new modern materials like ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene are becoming more and more popular.
Unfortunately, even the slipperiest of plastics is still not quite as frictionless as real ice. Modern synthetic ice rinks tend to be about 10-15% greater in friction than real ice; comparable, but not identical. This is why most synthetic ice rinks use a surface treatment to further decrease friction and make it slipperier for your guests.
Benefits of Synthetic Ice Rinks
There are a lot of benefits and a few drawbacks to using as a synthetic ice rink. Let’s start with the benefits.
The most obvious benefit is that you can use a synthetic ice rink in any weather. In the heat of a Texas summer, where it’s routinely in the 90s or hotter, it’s impossible to set up real ice outside of a climate-controlled facility designed for it, like a hockey arena (the American Airlines Center comes to mind).
A synthetic ice rink is also easy to set up pretty much anywhere. As long as you have a flat, hard surface like a parking lot, you’re generally good to go. You can’t set one up on a hill for safety reasons, and a soft ground surface can lead to cracks and problems with the skating surface, but there’s almost always going to be a suitable flat surface somewhere you can use.
Synthetic ice rinks are also modular, which means they can be made larger or smaller as needed to suit a space. Certain minimums are necessary for safety, and a maximum depends on the number of tiles you can rent at any given time, but that’s about it for limitations. What this means is that pretty much any purpose is viable with synthetic ice. It can be used for:
- Large-scale skating rink events with the usual circular flow of skating.
- Hockey games with full teams or with smaller rinks and partial teams.
- Figure skating, either in rounds or as a competition.
- Hockey trick shot or shooting competition games, or shooting/goalie training.
You have plenty of options for setting up a rink for your party or event.
Another great benefit of a synthetic ice rink is that it doesn’t require power to operate. You don’t need to worry about a huge draw on a company circuit or a public facility’s grid, and there are no loud, annoying generators stationed nearby.
Drawbacks of Synthetic Ice Rinks
What about the drawbacks? There are a few.
First, they don’t feel exactly the same as a real ice rink. The slightly higher degree of friction means that there’s no effortless gliding across the ice; it always takes just a slight amount of effort. This can be good – some people use it for speed training – but it’s slightly less fun for some people than real ice. Additionally, since real ice is cold, many people will feel like there’s a certain element of the experience missing when they’re skating without that chill.
Secondly, synthetic ice rinks wear away, both at the surface and at the skates. On real ice, when the ice is gouged, shaved, or abraded by skates, it’s easy to smooth out and re-freeze. With synthetic materials, the damage isn’t as easy to repair. Panels wear away and need to be replaced over time, and skates can be worn down and require new blades frequently.
Thankfully, of course, neither of those are your responsibility. As the rental company, we make sure to maintain our ice rink and skates in tip-top shape for each customer. If you were managing the rink, you would need to consider those maintenance needs, but when you’re just renting it for a day, it’s not your concern.
Many synthetic ice rinks also require a chemical lubricant to make them slipperier for use. Some people may object to this chemical treatment on the grounds that it’s not as environmentally safe as frozen water, but we would argue that the pollution of generators and refrigeration units is worse. Many modern panels are self-lubricating, however, which means this additional chemical is not needed.
Between the lubricant and the shavings of the synthetic materials as skates are used on it, there will also be the issue of shavings. Most instances where you rent a synthetic ice rink, those shavings will be cleaned up and recycled without issue, so it’s not really a concern.
Third, you do need enough space to set up your synthetic ice rink. That’s not any different from a portable real ice rink, though, and in fact, a synthetic rink is more flexible. We can set up our ice rink anywhere there’s enough flat ground, and “enough” flat ground is less than what would be needed if we had to set up a whole refrigeration system as well.
What You Need to Rent a Synthetic Ice Rink
So if you’re interested in renting a synthetic ice rink, what do you need? It’s not ideal for every customer in every situation, but we can make it work for almost everyone. Here’s what you need.
Space. You need enough space to set up your synthetic ice rink. Space, in this case, means a large, flat, hard surface. Typically, a concrete parking lot offers more than enough space, though a pitted and potholed parking lot might cause some issues. You cannot set up a synthetic ice rink on a hill or on an uneven surface safely; you will need a subfloor built.
A flat, hard surface is necessary to make sure all of the ice panels link together in a way that provides a smooth, flat surface for skating. Any unevenness in the ground will translate to ridges or bumps in the ice surface, which are a hazard. Obviously, when we set up our ice rinks, we make sure such hazards aren’t present.
On the day when your rink is being set up, you will need to make sure the area is clean and clear. We’re not saying you need to vacuum a parking lot or anything, but removing major debris, large rocks, and other obstructions will make the installation process smoother.
Time. Setting up an ice rink will typically take a couple of hours, as does teardown. It’s difficult to set up a synthetic ice rink on short notice. As such, it’s always best to call for a consultation well in advance of when you plan to have your ice rink set up for a party, gathering, or event. In cases where you’re renting an ice rink for more than a single day, it generally won’t need to be dismantled overnight and set up again, but it may need some maintenance in the evening, such as brushing the synthetic panels to smooth them out and sharpening skates for the next day.
Skates. Speaking of skates, while we provide them as part of our package, not all synthetic ice rink rentals do. Always make sure that the company you’re hiring to provide your ice rink will also provide things like skates and attendants to make sure your event runs smoothly.
Money. Obviously, if you’re renting an ice rink, you need to pay for it. Thankfully, renting a synthetic ice rink, even a total package (like what we offer) is cheaper than any other option. Buying the panels yourself is expensive. Renting or buying a refrigeration system is even more expensive. It’s also quite costly to rent a professional facility for a day, and you have to contend with scheduling concerns there as well.
That’s it! You can call us for a consultation and, if you’re within our area of operation, we’ll come out to talk about what we can do for you. Typically, you’ll have two options: setup and teardown of the ice rink for your event with attendants, or a full event management package.
Why You Should Rent a Synthetic Ice Rink
So why is a synthetic ice rink good for your party or event?
- It’s physical. Many parties and events tend to lack physical games for attendees beyond a few carnival games or bounce houses aimed at children. Getting physical makes a party a more memorable experience.
- It’s available for all ages. An ice rink is suitable for both young children and adults, unlike many bounce houses and other inflatables. An ice rink gives people something to do that isn’t just jumping around or watching others jump, as well.
- It’s available all year ‘round. A synthetic ice rink in the peak of a hot summer can be a great, fun experience, without having to fight the elements to keep a slab of ice cool.
And, of course, it’s fun! Who doesn’t love the chance to skate on ice even when it’s much too hot to support real ice? If you’re interested, give us a call, and we can talk about what kind of setup is right for you.