Plastics on Ice: How Plastics Advance Ice Hockey

Ice hockey game moment

Imagine ice skating in virtually any kind of weather. Thanks to innovations in plastics, it’s possible. You don’t need a frozen pond or a chilly outdoor rink. You now can skate on plastic “waterless ice” that never melts, indoors or outdoors—regardless of the season!

How is it possible to skate on plastics? Well, on natural ice, the heat friction from the skate blade slightly melts the ice, creating a slippery surface.  Plastic ice—usually called synthetic ice—is formulated to mimic this blade-ice interaction: the movement of the blades releases a lubricant embedded in the plastic, so the skater can glide across the surface. An additional coating of silicone plastic is sometimes added to the surface of synthetic ice to improve performance.

Synthetic ice is made with extremely durable, high density polyethylene plastic. It looks like real ice and provides a similar skating experience. Easy-to-assemble plastic panels interlock to form a seamless skating surface, making synthetic ice suitable for almost any size space, from large, commercial rinks to private backyards and basements. The paneled construction also makes it easy to transport synthetic ice, so it’s often used to quickly install ice rinks in arenas for touring shows.

Synthetic ice technology has greatly improved over the years, and it’s become even more cost-effective and energy-efficient, regardless of the climate. The plastic surface requires little maintenance other than keeping it clear of debris, and it even can be used when wet.  Since it does not require minimum temperature conditions, it helps save energy and provides a lower-cost way for hockey players and figure skaters to train in the off-season. It’s because of these benefits that waterless ice rinks are now found on Caribbean islands and in developing countries.

Want to try ice skating on plastics yourself? There now are many indoor and outdoor synthetic ice rinks in the United States and beyond. The Polar Rink at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan is New York City’s first public synthetic ice rink. The Winter Garden arena in Ridgefield, Conn., has a traditional ice rink in the winter but keeps a synthetic rink open year-round. The Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC has one on it’s roof. And the Venetian Las Vegas is featuring a new synthetic ice rink above its “Grand Canal” to celebrate winter in Venice.

Did You Know?

  • It takes between 12,000 to 15,000 gallons of water to form a traditional hockey rink surface. (source)
  • Ice arenas require a careful combination of surface and air temperature to perform well.  Ice that’s too warm might cause players to lose their edge, but ice that’s too cold can chip too readily. (source)
  • Refrigeration costs for an average sized water-based rink range from $5000 – $7000 per month (source)
  • At Minnesota’s Schwan Super Rink, one of the largest in the United States, the electricity bill in 2008 totaled $650,000. (source)