Playing games on ice must date back thousands of years, when early humans migrated to locales with colder climates and ventured out onto frozen bodies of water. But of course, once warmer temperatures arrived, the surface melted. With the invention of refrigeration in the 19th century, ice sports could be moved indoors and were able to be played in the warmest of climates. The first mechanically chilled indoor ice rink was London’s Glaciarium, which opened in January 1876. The surface consisted of a concrete base, then layers of dirt, cow hair and wood planks. Over this were copper pipes, which circulated a refrigerant consisting of glycerine, ether, nitrogen peroxide and water. When water was poured over this, it froze. Modern ice surfaces have the pipes circulating either chilled salt brine or a chilled water/antifreeze mix. They are atop or within a concrete or sand base. There are multiple layers of water laid down that freeze before the next layer is applied. First, a thin protective layer of water is sprayed over the base. This is then painted blue or white for contrast, and the appropriate markings for whatever sport is being played in the rink are applied. Another thin layer of water is poured over this, and then the final layer, typically 1.2 inches thick, is applied in stages. Finally, when the surface has been heavily used, the “Zamboni” (more officially, the ice resurfacer) comes along and scrapes off a layer of ice, washes the surface to remove any foreign material and sprays hot water to fill in any gaps, which creates a flat, pristine surface. It varies from arena to arena but it takes a 10-man crew 14 hours to go from concrete floor to finished ice surface using 8,500 gallons of water at Nassau Coliseum.
Photo: Stephen Lang