‘New Generation’ of Synthetic Ice Gains Popularity

On a planet that’s getting gradually warmer, it could be one of the coolest, slickest recreational amenities, and although it’s white, it’s also quite green. “It” is synthetic ice for ice rinks and arena.Now, faced with higher energy-related energy costs, some hospitality venues have taken note of its potential green maintenance savings. There are some very sizable installations of synthetic ice across the country. Viking Ice , Wilsonville, Ore., is one of the largest and most established makers of synthetic ice, and its product, a polymer bonded to a proprietary wood laminate core, has been installed at resorts and entertainment venues in Las Vegas and Branson, Mo., and in Radio City Music Hall in New York. Although synthetic ice has been around for at least 30 years, it is the new generation of products that is making it a more practical alternative to the real thing, Don Moffatt, director of facility programs for Serving The American Rinks (STAR), told CPN. STAR is an association serving the ice rink and arena industry and a joint venture between USA Hockey and U.S. Figure Skating. Although back in the day synthetic ice was typically not a particularly good approximation of real ice, Moffatt said, the latest generation of products “is a lot closer to ice … They’ve definitely closed the gap some.” And as energy costs inexorably rise, the environmental benefits of synthetic ice are becoming increasingly important. Moffatt noted that even a small conventional ice rink will spend $10,000 a month on electricity for refrigeration, while a larger arena could easily spend 10 times as much. Maintenance is also much less with synthetic ice, as cleaning can often be done with a commercial scrubber and a vacuum cleaner. Applying a water-soluble “glide solution” to the surface of the ice is also often part of routine maintenance. At least in the hockey world, Moffatt explained, synthetic ice is typically installed in smaller areas, about 50 by 50 feet, that are used for specialized training, such as shooting or goalie training. (A full-sized rink is 85 by 200 feet, or 17,500 square feet.) One of the newcomers in the industry is Pacific-Ice , of San Jose, Calif., which specializes in outdoor installations of its product, a polymer ethylene that’s made in solid 4×8-foot sheets of various thicknesses. The cost for an outdoor hockey or skating rink, the company says, is comparable to that for a high-end swimming pool.