Why they Flood and Clean the Ice Surface

Recently, I purchased an excellent power washer that I discovered here on Wash Wisely. The reason I mention this is that as I was using my new power washer to clean my deck the other day, it got me to thinking about how important the process of flooding and cleaning the ice is for figure skating competitions. I thought that would make for a great subject for our next post.

Why do they Flood?

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to watch the arena crew preparing the ice for a major figure skating competition, you may have wondered why they were flooding the ice with water. It’s actually quite intuitive when you think about it. Ice is just frozen water, so when the ice becomes damaged from excessive use you have to fill the gaps with fresh water to create the smooth surface that the skaters need to perform their routines. That’s exactly what the ice crew is doing when they flood the ice with fresh water. It’s a painstaking process, but without the efforts of these tireless individuals we wouldn’t get to enjoy the finest of exhibitions in world class figure skating.

What About the Zamboni?

A friend of mine asked me the other day “What exactly is a Zamboni?” That was a good question, and one that does require a bit of clarification. A Zamboni is actually just a certain brand of ice resurfacer, and it does have its competitors. It just happens to be the frontrunner, and that’s why most people associate these machines synonymously with this company’s name. It’s an honest mistake for the uninitiated.

So the question still remains – what exactly is a Zamboni or ice resurfacer? Essentially, it’s a machine that automates the process of flooding the ice with fresh water to repair the surface. In the past this was done by a team of individuals with shovels and buckets of water, and that was a rather time-consuming process that also made for some unpredictable results. The Zamboni was definitely a game changer.

What’s the Difference Between Fast Ice and Slow Ice?

Another couple of terms that are often used when referring to figure skating are fast ice and slow ice. In fact, these are terms that actually originated with the game of hockey, but they apply just as well to figure skating. Fast ice refers to fresh ice that’s just been resurfaced. It is completely free of debris and is categorized by a fresh sheen on the surface that is the newly-applied water. That smooth surface allows the skaters to skate more accurately, but it also makes the surface a little slippery, of course.

Slow ice is what you can expect after the first few competitors have had a spin around the ice. That freshly-flooded surface is quickly covered in ice shavings that can slow down the pace. Slow ice gives the skaters something more to grip, but they can’t get the speed that skaters on fast ice experience.

Periodic Manual Repairs

Something else you’ll notice if you’re attending a live event is that on occasion arena workers will be called in to make periodic manual repairs. The skaters’ safety must always be in the forefront for event organizers, and large holes in the ice have to be fixed as soon as possible. The way they normally do this is by shoveling some of the nearby ice shavings into the hole and then packing it down. If this doesn’t quite fix the problem, they may have to apply a little water, but this takes time to freeze, so it’s not an ideal solution in the middle of a competition.

Can You do It In Your Own Backyard?

Recreating the professional ice surface you find in arenas is pretty difficult to achieve in your back yard, but not impossible. With a lot of painstaking effort and patience, it can be done. Obviously, you can’t afford a Zamboni for the backyard, but by using the manual methods we’ve touched upon above you can create a very smooth surface for practice – you just have to be dedicated to the process.