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Published: 2/8/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Backyard rinks not big business

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Bob Felser, foreground, plays hockey on his homemade backyard skating rink in Sylvania Township. Bob Felser, foreground, plays hockey on his homemade backyard skating rink in Sylvania Township.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge | Buy This Photo
When a winter ice storm strikes Bob Felser's home in Sylvania Township, it's OK.

It improves the skating.

Like scores of other residents across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, Mr. Felser embraces the region's less-than-tropical climate each winter to build an outdoor entertainment mecca for his children and their friends -- a backyard ice rink.

"The kids have always played hockey, and they want to go out and skate all the time," said Mr. Felser, when asked why he built his homemade 40-foot-by-60-foot ice sheet in his backyard each of the last six years. "This has probably been the best year in the six years we've had it, just because of the weather. It's been colder."

There are a number of local residents who commit each year to the hours of construction, constant maintenance, and threat of a damaged lawn to build ice sheets in their yards. They do so for myriad reasons, but most involve either a love of hockey, a love of kids who love hockey, or skating in general.

"We thought it would be fun for the kids. It was a way to get some exercise and get outside with the kids," said Joan Miller, whose husband, Paul, built a large sheet for the second year in their Sylvania backyard. "As much work as it is, it's been worth it. My husband and I will go out and ice skate with the kids."

Backyard ice rinks are not a large industry. A check of local lumber yards revealed that each averages just a few customers each year who come in to purchase dimensional lumber, stakes, or plywood specifically to build rinks in their backyard. The very nature of its minimum requirements -- water, freezing temperatures, and little else -- means that such homemade rinks can be as simple, or elaborate, as the mind can imagine.

Few people know that better than Jim Stoller, owner of NiceRink, a company in Genoa City, Wis., that has been selling backyard ice rink kits for 20 years.

"It's easy to make a backyard rink. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out," said Mr. Stoller, whose kits includes specially made liners, frames, and brackets that keep ice sheets frozen and in place throughout the season. Last year, his company sold more than 2,500 kits in North America, everything from a $335 20-foot-by-40-foot rink to an NHL-sized 85-foot-by-200-foot monster that retails for $10,500 and includes everything but the water and the nets. The kits are sold locally by Dick's Sporting Goods.

Most people who build ice sheets in their yards don't use a kit such as those sold by Mr. Stoller. They either buy lumber; use scraps for their boards, or pile up snow to hold in the water. The only critical piece of equipment, Mr. Stoller said, is the tarp to hold in the water before it freezes.

"The thing is, if you don't use a white sheet of poly, it's going to be a disaster because the sun goes through the ice and melts the ice from the bottom every day. Then you have soft ice every day instead of a nice, hard ice surface," Mr. Stoller said.

But Mr. Felser said even that expense can be limited: His blue nylon tarp cost only about $100. The biggest expense for him is in the time required for maintenance.

"The biggest thing is maintaining it. We broom it off and shovel it after every skate and then hose it down so the ice stays smooth," Mr. Felser said.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.



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