Building an Outdoor Ice Rink No Liner, for Free (Part 1)

Family Chaos Ice Rink 2021

We only moved into our home in September, but I could already imagine the awesome ice rink that we were going to build around the fire pit in our backyard. I’ve never built an outdoor rink of any kind before, but I knew that I was going to have a significantly more time on my hands. I wanted to give myself something to do, and also an outlet for the kids to burn off some energy and get some exercise. We were not able to spend a dime on this thing so a $4,000 rink kit was out of the question, so I set out to build an outdoor ice rink without a liner, and it cost us absolutely nothing!

How to build an outdoor ice rink, no liner

Over the next several steps we’ll take you through building an outdoor ice rink without using a liner. This is done in two phases, 1) we use snow to create a slushy base that will freeze and become our “liner”, and 2) Flooding it and getting it smooth. Let’s get into it.

minimum requirements

Before you start building your outdoor ice rink, you should make sure that you can meet at least the following minimum needs.

– Cold weather (At least 0°C, but preferably colder)
– Snow (Around 20cm is good)
– A reliable water source
– A safe and appropriately sized location
– Shovels
– Garden hose and Nozzle
– Patience

Steps to building an outdoor ice rink without a liner

BEFORE YOU START

You only need a few basic tools to create an outdoor ice rink and can easily save yourself up to $4,000 on backyard ice rink kits. Once you know that you meet the minimum requirements above you can go ahead and get started on Step 1 below.

1. PREPARING THE AREA

Select an area in your yard that you wish to make your ice rink and then go a little bigger. The edges are always tough without a liner and boards so you’ll end up building up the snow “boards” quite a bit
You can begin preparing your ice rink before it gets cold enough, as long as you have some snow. You can begin by compacting the area of your ice rink in any way, shape or form. You really want to have a firm base of snow to start your rink. It doesn’t have to be completely level, but it should be relatively so. Water is self-level as it pools and freezes, but you don’t want a significant difference in grade or you won’t ever get it very flat.

This is a perfect time to elevate those low areas of your rink with snow and compact it down to make as level a surface as possible. Ideally 10 – 20 cm of snow will compact down to about 1 to 2cm of snow.

2. start spraying water… slowly

Patience is key, especially in the beginning. Start the first few sprays by just waving the nozzle around the entire area so that just the very top most millimeters of snow get wet. Each time you add a layer of light sprays, the water will sink through the top layer onto the next layer until the compacted snow is frozen. Mother nature is going to do most of the work during this stage.

You are not going to have a flat, shimmery surface for a while so don’t be dreaming of that. We’re attempting to use the snow to create the ice so that we’re not using as much water. Since we’re not using a rink liner, the water doesn’t have any place to go if we add too much.

If the weather is closer to 0°C then you’ll want to wait a few hours between each spray. If you find you are losing too much snow, then ease up. The water will freeze fast with colder temperatures and you should be okay to go out every hour or so.

go low and go slow

Too much water, too quickly will melt the snow as opposed to turning it to slush for mother nature to freeze it. Until you’ve created a solid bed a ice, with no holes, you simply won’t be able to do any significant flooding (where the water pools and moves around). It really and truly is important for you to go low and go slow with the water at this point. Don’t rush it or you’ll hate yourself later when you need to be adding more snow back on to the ice to patch holes.

3. Keep It Clean; Build up Your Walls and Patch Some Holes

You’ll appreciate keeping it clean as even the smallest droplet of snow could freeze and be something to trip over. Take the time to push the snow out towards the sides of your ice rink. This gives your rink some definition, but also creates a bowl-like structure whereby water will eventually be able to collect without running off of the sides.

It’s going to be worth patching any holes or building up low areas as you go. Your future self will appreciate you. You patch holes exactly the way that you created your rink; add some snow, make it slushy and let it freeze.

Water will self-level itself so you only need to worry about creating enough slush for mother nature to freeze into a solid (without holes) piece of ice.

Stay Tuned. In Part 2, we’ll talk more about patching and flooding…