ESTEVAN - For the second straight winter, an Estevan man has created a backyard rink, and it has proven to be a hit with families in the neighbourhood.
Devin Aspinall created the ice surface in the winter of 2020-21 because kids had no opportunities to see their friends due to COVID-19 restrictions. It was a common refrain for people across the country.
“No activities were going on at the time, so we decided to take the plunge and do one so that we can have some activities outside and get the friends outdoors to see each other,” Aspinall told the Mercury.
That first winter, he stayed awake for 24 hours straight at one point to ensure it was ready for use.
Since it was popular and busy last year, he built another rink for this winter.
“All rink owners that have done it, you start with what you can handle, and then every year you grow it a little bit, so this year it got a little bigger. I added a few more accessories and made it a little nicer looking. The weather was nice and cold to freeze up that ice, so it’s looking good.”
The cold snap in late December and early January deterred some people, but it’s getting more usage now that the weather is warmer.
The Aspinall rink is 50 feet long by 30 feet wide, which he said is a good size for a backyard rink. He noted is backyard is also of a good size. Only a couple of trees kept him from having a larger ice surface.
He added mesh to protect the house and the fence from flying pucks, and lighting so that it can be used until the kids are tired. A fire pit will help people stay warm when watching the action on the ice, and it helps heat up the body after the ice time is finished.
It takes a lot of time to make the rink happen, but Aspinall said his father Barry helps out with rink maintenance, including scraping and flooding.
“It takes a lot of work just to make it, because you get obsessed with it,” said Aspinall. “You want to do it the best you can, and you want smooth ice. It takes time depending on the weather.
“If we’re having bad weather, you get ice chips or any freezing rain, it makes your ice in rough shape, so you have to do a lot of work to get it down. Sometimes you have to torch it to melt it to get those cracks down. You have to constantly put down slush to fill those holes that are forming.”
Warm temperatures mixed with wind create a lot of issues when you have trees around, because debris gets lodged in the ice.
The Aspinalls built a good-sized scraper out of a lawnmower blade that they use to keep it smooth, and they created what is called a “home-boni” that hooks up to the house’s hot water source.
“It’s built out of pipe, and it’s got some holes, so you hook your hose directly to it, and it runs hot water through it, and you drag your towel behind.”
He compared it to a miniature version of a Zamboni on ice, and it keeps the ice firm for skating.
His wife Stacey will be out with snacks and hot chocolate for the kids.
It’s a great feeling when he comes home at the end of the day to see families using it. While it hasn’t been as busy as it was last year, since activities have resumed, it’s still been a neighbourhood destination, and it’s well worth the work.
Aspinall expects he will continue to create the rink each year, and add to its amenities. He’s part of a Facebook group with people from around the world who are sharing tips and ideas for their outdoor rinks.
“When the kids are using it and the adults are using it, and they’re outside, and winter gets long, and they’re busy and excited to be outside, it’s so worth it. If anyone’s ever willing to get into it or has questions, you can always phone somebody like me who started. You learn and you make mistakes.”