Ah, the beauty and the beast of the Great White North’s winter season. The cold being the beauty that gives life to the treasured outdoor rink. The beast being the snow, sleet, rain and combinations thereof that transform the act of shoveling the rink to something between a minor annoyance and a heart-attack inducing hell-on-blades (or double-double-hell-on-boots if you’ve ever tried to get traction shoveling snow off a rink in boots).
I remember playing as a kid on outdoor rinks in parks and there would usually be a couple of shovels left at the rink or donated from a nearby neighbour. Sometimes we’d bring one if we knew it was needed. It was the recreational equivalent of a self-service economy. When the rink got snowy enough from just too much skating we would sometimes take the multi-shovel approach and have a bunch of guys lined up to go across the ice in parallel the way multiple plows sometimes clear a multi-lane highway.
This worked great for minor league snow but when mother nature really unloaded, that didn’t cut it. No, for a big snow fall, the ways we normally approached the chore of making the rink skateable again was to clean the snow off just the minimum amount of the ice-pad needed to start a game. When more ice was needed (because more kids showed up), more snow tended to get shoveled only when the newcomers picked up the shovels already warm from those who had gotten their first and already made their ice bones.
Then there was the snow followed by rain followed by cold scenario where the skating surface could only be found after twenty three hours of chipping and hacking one’s way through the tundra for three straight days a little bit at a time. This of course was the ultimate in discouraging and we usually ended up too tired to play by the time we had hacked our way to even the smallest patch of ice. In the event we weren’t too tired, it often ended in a ridiculous game with too many players using a small patch of ice roughly 312 square feet. (Ridiculous, but highly conducive to developing good stick-handling skills.)
There was also the rain followed by snow followed by cold scenario which was the worst of the worst for in this situation, there was no distinct sheet of ice below – just a hard layer of something that had about an inch of ice / snow / cold guck that wasn’t skateable and was really only a semi-level surface on which was required another forty one million gallons of water to build it up to hard ice. This was the closest thing to a rink that was going to die without being skated on ever again – or until a good enough thaw came along to melt most of the top guck into water at which point prayers for a cold snap at just the right point in time were our best plan for hockey on some day soon.