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Synthetic Vs. Real Ice: What’s the Real Difference?

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hockey stadium with fans crowd and an empty ice rink

Skating across the ice can be one of the most exhilarating events. Some might say it’s the closest you can get to flying without leaving the ground. People love to skate, whether figure skating, ice hockey, or just gliding with friends.

Unfortunately, it only comes around for many people when the weather is cold enough to support thousands of gallons of water, constant upkeep and refrigeration, and the expense of maintaining a rink facility indoors. For that, let’s find out about synthetic ice rinks and take a look at synthetic vs. real ice rinks.

Synthetic ice offers an alternative to running an ice rink facility. It can be done virtually any time of the year in nearly any place large enough to set up the surface. There are some differences between real ice and synthetics, even though synthetic ice rinks have come a long way in recent years. 

Weight of ice vs. synthetics

Though it might not seem very much when considering the ice in your drink or taking ice out of a dog bowl on a cold winter morning, ice is pretty heavy. It weighs around 8lbs per gallon and requires a lot of support when putting hundreds, if not thousands, of gallons of water over an area to maintain proper consistency and remain frozen over a large area.  

Synthetic ice is made of VHMW-HDPE, or very high molecular weight high-density polyethylene, which is made into thin tiles and fitted together with various methods, more familiar with carpentry. Tongue and groove joints, dovetail joints, and other methods create a flat, nearly seamless surface of interlocking tiles that weigh less than what it would take to flood the same area with water. 

Synthetic Vs. Real Ice: Wet Vs. Dry

Ice is the state of matter water is found in at temperatures below freezing. However, the surface of the ice might rise above the freezing point due to several factors. Air temperature, sunlight, friction, and pressure affect the melting point. In fact, ice resurfacing equipment needed to maintain a rink uses this phenomenon to apply water to the ice and refreeze it to create a fresh surface. Either way, where there is ice, unless you have consistent, low temperatures, you will likely encounter liquid water.  

Ice rinks can be damp from time to time, as the surface is constantly fluctuating between solid and liquid forms. This can be a miserable experience for skaters and a challenge to keeping surrounding areas from getting wet and even flooding. A synthetic ice surface has no such problems. The surface is always dry unless something has been spilled on it or it has just been cleaned.

All temperature skating

Synthetic Vs. Real Ice Rink

For synthetic vs. real ice rinks.  With an ice rink, you will need to have a consistently below-free climate, as with an outdoor rink. On the other hand, you will need a refrigeration system of pipes under the ice connected to compressors and refrigerant to keep the ice from melting.

For an indoor ice rink, the climate can be controlled enough to sustain an ice rink. Still, outside, sunlight and warm temperatures can render your ice rink into a very shallow pool of slushy water. This is why outdoor ice rinks are typically set up exclusively in winter.

Synthetic ice rinks can be set up at any time of the year, depending on the demand. In summer, however, the surface might get a little hot due to sunlight and even lose some of the slicks that make it feel like ice. Synthetic ice rinks can be set up anywhere without needing water, electricity, expensive refrigeration machines, or resurfacing equipment.

In comparison, synthetic vs. real ice rinks are quite similar, but for synthetic ice rinks, here are just a few examples of where they can be installed:

  • Outdoor rinks: Popular with malls, parks, and other outdoor festivals, synthetic ice rinks are used with the same skates that can be found at an ice rink.
  • Backyard rinks: Great for practice year-round, rinks can be set up in the backyard for aspiring figure skaters to anyone wanting to work on their slapshot.
  • Basements and garages: Synthetic rinks can be set up indoors, even in your home. Great for practice, recreation, and even exercise.
  • Gymnasiums: Whether it is a gym where people go to work out or a school, synthetic ice rinks won’t melt, leak, or flood.

A slightly different skating experience than ice

Hockey player on ice

In recent years, the polymers used in synthetic ice rinks have dramatically improved. However, there are some differences. Synthetic ice tends to grab skates a little more than ice, reducing gliding distance and limiting a skater’s ability to skid as they would on ice.

Because of this, synthetic ice requires a little bit more effort to skate for longer distances and durations. However, lots of skaters in training like that element because it increases the need for effort and works great for training for ice rinks.

Water ice is a little easier on skate edges and requires less frequent sharpening. Though it is harder to damage synthetic ice, it is a little less forgiving when it comes to repairs. Damaged tiles would have to be repaired or replaced rather than fixed with a resurfacing machine. Most skaters won’t be able to tell the difference once they get going. They’ll be having too much fun!

Pros of synthetic ice rinks

When it comes to the pros and cons of synthetic vs. real ice rinks. Without the overhead of refrigeration machines, electricity, water supply, and the infrastructure needed to set up an ice rink, synthetic rinks are much cheaper.

Without the need for a resurfacing machine or someone trained on the proper use and operation (not to mention housing a resurfacing machine when not in use), synthetic rinks come out ahead on less upkeep and ease of maintenance.  

Artificial ice can also be installed in variable size areas without considering factors such as the volume of water needed to maintain ice temperatures. Synthetic ice rinks are easy to clean and have a greater resistance to heavy traffic than ice, without the need to continually resurface and clean.

Contact us to learn more

Artificial ice has made leaps and bounds with new polymer technology, from the discussed differences between synthetic vs. real ice rinks. Synthetic ice allows year-round fun virtually anywhere you can think to install an ice rink. Contact us if you want to learn more about how KwikRinks can provide a quality artificial ice skating experience.

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