Common Ice Maintenance Problems

The following chart describes some of the common problems with outdoor rink ice and suggests some remedies for consideration.

Problem Cause Remedy
Shell or Shale ice Heavy flooding, leaving ponds of water which freeze on top and run away underneath
  • Scrape away, and fill with wet snow, or gradually build up with warm water resurfacing/flooding.
Cracked Ice Cold temperatures
  • Fill cracks with a wet snow slush and resurface/flood.
Pebble or Rough Ice Too much snow on ice, or flooding while snowing, or scrapers not flat or not sharp enough, or you could be using too little water, if it ripples you are using too much water
  • Make sure the ice is clean of all snow before resurfacing/flooding, or repair/sharpen scraper or blades or use warmer water.
  • Make sure you are applying the correct amounts of water.
Ice Chipping Brittle ice from severe cold weather
  • Resurface/flood with warm water.
Spring Deterioration Warm weather or painted lines absorbing sun’s rays or sun reflecting off the rink boards
  • Do not allow skating and place snow on melting areas as a thicker layer of ice will help prevent melting in warm weather. Some rinks may have as much as 30 cm (12″) of ice by the end of the season.
  • You can also try and bank snow up against the outside of the boards throughout the season will have an insulating effect in the warm weather.
Low Spots on the Ice Excessive use, usually in goal crease, behind net, at players boxes, etc.
  • Flood utilizing the bucket dump method in the evening after all the patrons have left.

The Joys of Shell Ice

A topic I see come up frequently on a Facebook group (Backyard Ice Rinks) I am a part of is shell ice. It is a big pain and there are various methods for taking care of it. So lets get into this.

So what exactly is shell ice? Shell ice is created either naturally or after a resurfacing and is really brittle ice that tends to be formed in small areas from a couple of square inches but can range up to several square feet or more.  It is formed when the new water (rain, slush, or from resurfacing) is much warmer than the ice surface and the air temps are really cold/windy.  The new water doesn’t have a chance to form a bond with the existing ice, so it creates it’s own layer of ice, thus the shell affect. Using hot/warm water for a resurfacer is definitely better if you have it, but try to avoid resurfacing in extreme cold conditions or extreme hot water as you might be making the right conditions for shell ice.

Well you now know the basics of shell ice, so how does one take care of it? I haven’t found one common theme when researching this topic so I will share the different methods that are suggested.

  • One method is to chop this shell ice up completely with something like a heavy duty ice scraper, remove it from the ice surface, and make a couple of resurfacing passes. Some say to fill the areas with snow so that when you resurface it creates a slush that should then freeze.
  • You can also use a sharp object, such as an nail, to make holes in the shell ice. Then the next time you flood, water will fill up the empty space in under the thin layer, and if the temp is low enough, it will freeze to form solid ice. This is better than just destroying the shell ice, as very few ice fragments are created this way, which means there is less chance of getting a rough surface when you flood.
  • There is more of an extreme method and that is to perform the “bucket dump” method. We will be covering more on that in another post.


Photo credit: Joe Mason