Synthetic ice can be used instead of a real ice surface for your backyard ice rink or for even the largest commercial indoor ice rink.
Or, install a synthetic practice rink in your basement for use in the summer while your backyard ice rink is nothing but a puddle and a memory. Don't worry - you can use your regular ice skates that have metal blades on the synthetic surface.
Synthetically made ice is usually very lightweight, has low friction and is made of strong, wear-resistant plastic or polymer that is used for skating with regular ice skates that have metal blades.
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A tremendous amount of research has been done - there are definitely some synthetic surfaces for ice rinks that are better than other synthetic surfaces!
What is Synthetic Ice?
Synthetic ice is a high-tech plastic polymer on which you can skate. It resembles a white plastic cutting board in texture. But, these are giant panels, usually 4 feet by 8 feet that resemble huge jigsaw puzzles. The dovetail or tongue-in-groove joints anchor the panels together snugly, ensuring a smooth and seamless skating experience.
These specially engineered polymers permit a skate blade to glide almost as smoothly as if on real ice.
The panels are usually made from very high molecular weight polyethylene (VHMWPE), or better, ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE). These surfaces are typically 'dryer' than the high-tech plastic polymers with oils embedded. In almost all cases, the regular (if occasional) sprayed application of a glide enhancer is required.
The very best (and most expensive, of course) synthetic panels are fabricated from ultra-high density (UHMW) polyethylene polymers with lubricating oils embedded directly in the polymer.
When you skate on ice, you're gliding on a thin film of water created by the heat of the blade's friction, which melts the ice. On these top-of-the-line oil-embedded polymers, the skating friction releases built-in lubrication, so the blade glides smoothly from start to finish without the need for any glide enhancers.
Most polymer panels are at least 1/2 inch thick. Some companies manufacture a 3/8 inch thick panel, and the most heavy-duty commercial panels are 3/4 inches thick. If desired, you can special-order 1" panels from a few firms.
The polymer is not damaged by high or low temperatures and is UV protected.
Solid polymer panels are waterproof. If outside, you can skate on a wet surface. In fact, it might be even better when wet, depending on the panel system you purchase.
Gliding improves with wear. Glide enhancer is always needed except for the truly oil imbedded polymers.
Seamless technology has revolutionized the synthetic ice industry, because the panels are interlocking. They no longer pull apart due to changes in the weather, and trip you up just as you're about to score that brilliant goal.
Even better, they can be coupled together in minutes using a mallet, making it easy for a handy homeowner to install in the basement or backyard.
The interlocking joints eliminate the majority of the drawbacks of the old, standard synthetic ice rinks:
They control expansion
No more cracks during contraction
The dove-tails are indestructible - they won't break, warp, bend or curl under any normal use, indoors or outdoors.
Outdoor installations should only use these interlocking panels.
Medium or low quality synthetic panels still offer drawbacks:
Higher COF - more friction means harder to skate.
Increased friction heats up the blades, which heat up your feet.
Glide enhancers have to be sprayed on frequently - in commercial settings as often as every 1/2 hour to several hours.
Synthetic surfaces of lesser density produce more litter in the form of plastic and glide-enhancer shavings. These are unsightly, and stick to your clothing with every spill.
The shavings can be a major aggravation and a source of extra cleaning and maintenance.
It is very difficult to figure skate on lower density synthetic ice, as the friction makes it difficult to build up momentum needed for jumps or spins. Picks can damage a lesser-quality synthetic surface.
Be careful to purchase a synthetic surface that has skating characteristics that resemble real ice.
It is much more economical to install and maintain synthetic rinks in a commercial setting, because you won't need refrigeration equipment or ice resurfacing equipment.
With synthetic ice rinks you do not even need a water supply!