For the hoi polloi, the day after Thanksgiving is all about Black Friday. For a dedicated band of winter warriors, however, the day has become synonymous with the unofficial start of outdoor skating rink season or ODR Season (#ODRszn). It’s when devotees begin building winter recreation meccas on their lawns, driveways, backyards, front yards, side yards or any space where a personal pond can be frozen and rigged up for neighborhood action. Enter the backyard hockey rink boom.
“There are very few things more symbolic of winter than the sounds of hockey skates on outside ice, it just sounds different,” says Brian Houseman, who for the past four years has built a rink in the backyard of his home in Bedford, NH. “We have a 25-by-50-foot rink that we flood once we get consistently cold temperatures. Waiting is the hardest part.”
While some rinks are original designs built from plywood and lumber, others are created from kits by companies like EZ ICE that are relatively simple to assemble and store in the off-season. Still others employ real hockey boards salvaged from indoor rinks. The three core materials are the boards, bracing that supports the boards and lining that traps freezing water. Rink-builders put up lighting, signage and even video monitors with endless degrees of ingenuity.
“There is a learning curve—at first there will be a lot of really bad failures because no matter how much you know about construction, once water is involved things get very tricky,” says Dominick Alessandro, an adult league hockey player from Danbury, CT, who built his first backyard rink in 2004.
ODR culture has thrived thanks to a vast amount of “how to build a backyard rink” content online, which helps builders deal with issues like ad hoc materials, drawing lines and poor flooding control. A Facebook group called “Backyard Ice Hockey Rinks” has nearly 37,000 members. The Instagram account “ODR Heaven” is followed by more than 91,000 people inspired by images of outdoor rinks around the world.
Aside from waiting for winter, season-long maintenance is the hardest part of owning a personal sheet of ice. Hard snowfalls can damage surfaces, liners are easily ripped and other vagaries of winter can spoil even the best-laid ODR plans.
“But it’s getting easier to build a backyard rink due to the amount of info online,” says Ben Nazar, who founded ODRHeaven on Instagram in 2013. “It’s a lot cheaper than renting ice time at an indoor rink.”
Not a bad way to impress the neighbors, either. Especially when you’re hitting the posts as solidly as the builders in this spread.
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