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Ice Rinks Prepare for Peak of Holiday Season

'Tis the season for cold air, snow and ice and one of the nation's favorite winter pastimes, ice skating. However, the weather can play a crucial role in the maintenance of indoor and outdoor ice rinks.

Both types of skating rinks must be kept in tip-top condition in order to ensure the safety of their visitors, especially during the busiest time of the year, between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

Outdoor Ice Rinks

As these rinks pop up around major cities in the U.S. just in time for the holiday season, careful considerations and specific conditions need to be met prior to opening day.

This year, outdoor rinks faced major opening setbacks, as a late spell of warm and rainy days caused a halt in rink building and the ice-making process.

The Wollman Rink, in New York City's Central Park, usually opens the last two weeks of October but this year opened at the tail-end of that period, opening Oct. 26, 2013.

"It depends on the weather, we need a week of temperatures consistently below 60 degrees during the day to make ice," Director of the Skating School at the Wollman Rink Elise Preston said.

Outdoor rinks are typically kept frozen by refrigeration systems that run underneath the frozen ice. These systems pump a cooled solution out to the rinks through piping systems and keep the ice frozen throughout the skating season.

While snow may be a reminder of the holiday season for many, it can be disastrous for outdoor ice skating rinks.

"Blizzards are rough," Preston said.

Snow, if not removed from the ice, can breakdown the surface ice on the rink. As a result, unlike schools, companies, etc. that call off employees during snowstorms, rink crews work around the clock through the storm to ensure that no snow accumulates on the ice, according to Preston.

Rain also poses a threat to outdoor rinks, as it can create little hills on the ice, ruining the flat, smooth surface necessary for safe skating.

The worst case weather scenario for an outdoor rink is when snow turns into rain or vice versa.

Indoor Ice Rinks

Indoor hockey rink staff members must keep rinks at low temperatures throughout the year.

"It's a balancing act," Whittemore said. "You really want to keep it a consistent temperature all year round."

Although water freezes at 32 F, indoor rinks are usually kept in the neighborhood of 17 to 24 F, according to Facility Coordinator for the Pennsylvania State University's Pegula Ice Arena Chris Whittemore.

The standard air temperature for an indoor rink is around 65 F with a dew point around 35 F.

"It makes a good sheet of ice for people to skate on," Whittemore said.

However, unlike outdoor rinks, these rinks require more maintenance when large crowds are expected because more heat will enter the building and thus drive up the temperature.

"We kind of have it pre-set," Whittemore said. "We try to bring down the temperature to between 58 and 60 degrees and bring down the ice temperature to 15 to 16 degrees in anticipation of all the heat coming inside the building when people do arrive."

The temperature and condition of the ice are crucial elements in keeping both hockey players and the general public safe while skating.

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