How Do They Keep Ice Skating Rinks Cold?

Written By: Riedell | July 3, 2024

Each year, as winter approaches, outdoor enthusiasts and skating enthusiasts alike lace up their ice skates and head to the outdoor rinks. Ice skating is a well-loved winter activity for many people around the globe, even in areas with warmer climates. 

However, when we think of ice skating locations, our minds likely gravitate toward colder weather climates rather than places like Florida or California. Despite warmer temperatures, outdoor ice skating rinks are available in a variety of places. How exactly? Let’s take a look!

How Do Warmer Locations Keep Ice Skating Rinks Cold?

Some skaters may utilize synthetic ice to train in warmer climates. After all, in many warmer countries, winter temperature averages can be as high as 70 degrees Fahrenheit—a far cry from Minnesota’s 25-degree average. This might seem like too high a temperature to accommodate a proper ice rink temperature, so how do they do it? It all boils down to three main factors: humidity, wind, and heat. 

Essentially, outdoor rinks utilize a substance called propylene glycol to maintain the temperature inside ice rinks. Glycol runs through pipes under the rink, pumping coolness throughout a system underneath the ice. It takes about three days to create the ice itself. Water must be sprayed and frozen in thin, individual layers on a chilled surface, typically concrete but sometimes asphalt. 

Most outdoor rinks use a chiller, which is essentially a large refrigerator set at minus five degrees and running 24 hours a day to keep the ice frozen. 

There is also plenty of maintenance required to keep ice skating rinks cold, especially in warmer climates. Heat, surprisingly, isn’t the biggest challenge of the three. Humidity tends to be the biggest challenge when it comes to maintaining ice in warmer temperatures.

Humidity results in dew atop ice when a rink isn’t being used overnight. Small amounts can create frost, but in areas with even higher humidity, a layer of water can form on the ice. Pushing the pool of water off the ice requires a lot of manual work, but it is important because the more water sitting on the ice, the harder it is for the liquid to solidify.

So, how do outdoor ice rinks stay frozen? Keep reading! 

How Do They Keep Ice Skating Rinks Frozen?

Now, let’s take a more in-depth dive into the subject. But first, consider this analogy. Think of an ice skating rink like an air mattress filled with coolant while the ice sits on top. The mattress, aka the rink, is filled with pipes, which deliver the coolant (such as glycol or other substances) and keep the ice cold. These systems run on electricity, so you’ll often see gas generators nearby to keep it running in the event of any power issues.

This is essentially the same system used for indoor skating rinks, which are made of several components, such as:

  • Skating surface
  • Chilled concrete slab
  • Insulation
  • Heated concrete
  • Sand and gravel base
  • Groundwater drain 

The chilled concrete slab typically contains the pipes moving the coolant, while the heated slab and insulation keep the ground below the rink from freezing. If the ground were to freeze, it could expand and crack the ring’s structure. The entire rink sits on a sand and gravel base with a groundwater drain to maintain stability and drainage.

Keeping a structure of this magnitude cool is challenging, especially in warmer climates, but engineers have the process down to a science. Many rinks use ammonia and brine to keep the ice frozen. This involves a complex process where the chiller absorbs heat from the ice rink through brine, which transfers the heat to ammonia, causing it to boil and vaporize. The vaporized ammonia is then pressurized by a compressor, raising its temperature, and condensed back into a liquid to restart the cycle. This chilled brine circulates through pipes in the rink floor, drawing heat from the ice surface to keep it at around -4°C, before returning to the chiller to repeat the process.

Some rinks use a similar system, but instead of ammonia and brine, glycol is chosen as a more environmentally friendly option. In these instances, the refrigerant is pumped through the chiller, where the glycol is cooled and then pumped from the chiller to the connected ice rink elements through the pipe system.

So, with that in mind, are ice skating rinks cold? Let’s find out. 

How Cold Are Ice Rinks

The temperature inside an ice rink is often very cold. The average ice rink temperature is typically 17-29 degrees Fahrenheit. This represents the on-ice temperature, although air temperatures inside ice rinks are typically kept cool, around 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit. 

These temperatures are necessary for maintaining an appropriate environment for the surface of the ice. This keeps heat and humidity down to a minimum, allowing skaters to get the traction they need while on the ice. Temperatures can affect the softness and hardness of the ice, which has a significant impact on skating ability.

Can the Temperature of the Ice Impact Skating? 

The short answer is yes, it can! The temperature of the ice can have an effect on your overall skating experience. Many rinks try to keep the temperature of the ice around 24 degrees Fahrenheit on average. However, warmer climate outdoor rinks can vary significantly. Depending on what the rink is mainly used for, the temperature might change.  

For example, ice ranging in temperature from 24 to 29 degrees is best for figure skating, while 17 to 23 degrees is considered ideal ice for hockey. The mid to upper 20-degree range creates “soft” ice, which is preferred for figure skating because it allows softer landings, better grip for jump take-offs, and overall softer and smoother glide. Because of this, sharpening a slightly larger radius onto the blade will help reduce friction and increase speed on “softer” ice. Also, all the major competition events held by the ISU, such as the World Championships, European Championships, and Winter Olympics, have specific regulations concerning the ice temperature so that the ice surface feels similar for top skaters in every event.

Skate Outdoors in Comfort with Riedell Ice Skates

With winter just hiding around the corner, outdoor ice skating rinks will soon be booming with skaters. Are you an avid wintertime skater? Avoid needing to rent your skates this year, and opt for high-quality comfort with figure skates from Riedell! With our vast collection of skating boots and blades, you’ll be able to find the perfect pair for your skill level, keeping you on the ice longer with increased comfort. 

We also offer customized figure skates for even more comfort. Our master craftsmen can customize your boots to fit your exact specifications and features. We are able to make allowances in boots for prescription orthotics, high or low arches, toe room, heel spurs, foot irregularities, bunions, and more. We offer customization of color, leather temper, firmness, heel height, and so much more. With a customized boot, you’ll be able to show off on the ice with increased comfort. 

Whether you need customized boots or you’re just starting out, skaters of all levels trust Riedell skates. Contact us or visit one of our authorized dealers today!