The phone calls and emails started flooding in before Thanksgiving. People interested in a skating rink in their yard.
Nolan Rinta, owner of T-Rex Rinks of Stillwater, who has been building rinks since his college days, hasn't had many days off ever since.
"As youth sports were shut down with the governor's orders, phone calls and emails really exploded from there. I know all of the manufacturers are really backed up right now. We were lucky that we placed some bulk orders ahead of time," Rinta said.
T-Rex Rinks, which services the Twin Cities area and western Wisconsin, still has NiceRink product in stock and can install despite the ground being frozen.
"I love it personally. I put a rink in my yard or out on the pond every year. You're bored in the winter, and you're just looking to get outside, it's really convenient to be able to go outside to your own rink and just mess around with the puck. To have a few neighbors over and have kids skate around," Rinta said.
Rinta said the most important aspect of a home made rink is determining the slope of the yard. That determines the size of the rink a customer can have. Once boards and a liner are in place, the flooding can take place.
"We've spent the last month really just setting things up, waiting for colder temperatures that we are finally seeing this week," said Rinta on Dec. 15.
Rinta said that after three-to-six days, a solid freeze should take place, allowing skaters on the ice. T-Rex Rinks offers resurfacing packages and tools to maintain quality ice all season.
HEADING TO THE RINK
Most local cities report the seasonable temperatures Dec. 13-15 allowed for crews to begin preparing for ice skating rinks.
"We've already had calls, asking if ice rinks are open yet," said City of Prior Lake Recreation Manager Angie Barstad. "I don't think most people understand it's quite a process. It doesn't happen overnight. You need a good base, but it takes weeks sometimes to be ready to be open to skaters."
Barstad said if Mother Nature cooperates — talks of multiple days near 40 degrees in the week leading up to Christmas — the skating rinks could be open any day.
In addition to the usual skating facility — two hockey rinks, one leisure rink — at Lakefront Park, the City of Prior Lake is adding for the first time six neighborhood leisure rinks at parks (Woodridge, Willows, Northwood Meadows, Jeffers, Sand Point, and Oakland Beach).
Along with Prior Lake, there will be no staff on-site at warming houses in the city of Shakopee. Jay Tobin, Shakopee's Director of Parks and Recreation, said bathrooms will remain open and additional picnic tables will be at each site to accommodate users. Regular flooding and cleaning will occur, as needed.
Tobin said Shakopee Public Works teams were out laying down a base during the week of Dec. 14. This layer will likely be unstable and will thaw as temperatures rise through the week.
Shakopee rink locations include Green Meadows Park, Westminster Park, Southbridge Community Park, and Lions Park (no warming house).
The city of Chanhassen maintains 10 rinks, four for hockey and six for recreation. The city said rinks are tentatively scheduled to open in late December 2020, weather permitting. In-ground frost is required to begin flooding, and this condition is present once there is a week of single-digit temperatures followed by sustained single-digit temps to begin the process.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic also will delay the opening of warming houses.
Some of Chanhassen's top rink options are Bandimere Park, Chanhassen Rec Center, City Center Park, and North Lotus Lake Park.
TAKE A LAP OR TWO
A popular skating path around the lake at Firemen's Park is still in the works, when the ice is safe, said City of Chaska Parks and Recreation Director Marshall Grange.
Each year a portion of the lake is cleared for skaters to loop around.
"The weather hasn’t been in our favor for outdoor ice and it’s looking like high daytime temps again through the middle of next week (Dec. 23). Once the weather permits we intend to have our Lion’s Park and Community Park outdoor ice rinks be available," Grange said.
Grange said warming houses will not be available at any of the sites this season.
"We’ll plan to have benches and rubber matting available for people to put on their skates. While it’s not ideal that there won’t be warming houses available, I think outdoor skating will be a popular choice for people to get some activity and fresh air," he said.