Which Synthetic Ice Rink Surface is Best?

Every synthetic ice rink company makes a claim to fame - 'most used', 'best', etc. Are they all the best? We'll show you what kind of synthetic ice to look for, and you can decide which is best for you.

First: Determine Your Needs and How You Will Use Your Synthetic Ice Rink

Select Ultra-High Density (UHMWPE- Ultra High Molecular Weight Poly Ethylene) synthetic panels for:

  • Commercial Use. The heavier the molecular weight, the more durable the product. The highest density polymers have molecular weights in the range of 5-6 million.

    Look for the heaviest weight per square foot, and when comparing, be sure you're comparing products with equal thicknesses (3/8, 1/2, 3/4, 1"). The heaviest panel is the most dense and durable.
  • Figure skating, or frequent, high level figure-skating practice. This is because the toe pick can create deep scratches in medium to high density polymers. The synthetic surface in this case will last longer and serve you better if ultra-high density polymers are installed.

    The densest panels have the lowest coefficient of friction (COF), meaning you'll be able to glide with less effort, and attain greater speed for practicing spins and jumps.
  • Hockey practice. Ultra-dense synthetic surfaces are as excellent for hockey as they are for other uses. The cost per square foot is greater, which is why for most home applications, we think the high-density synthetic ice rink panels will be very suitable. Nevertheless, there may be some great reasons why you would choose an ultra-high density polymer for your synthetic practice rink - less shavings, greater durability, less maintenance, to name a few.

    The extreme hardness of the ultra-high density synthetic surface does tend to dull a hockey blade more quickly than a high-density surface. You might wish to also buy a blade sharpener while you're at it. Some experts think that the decreased friction of the ultra-dense surface may offset some of the dulling effects of the hard surface.

Select High-Density (HMWPE-High Molecular Weight Poly Ethylene) synthetic panels for:

  • Home or backyard ice rink skating entertainment
  • Home ice hockey games and practice.

    High Density synthetic ice panels have a beaded surface when they're new. This makes it easier to skate on when the surface is new, as the beading reduces the friction so you will glide better.

    Then, as the skate blades begin to nick the surface and scrape off the beaded heads, the scratches and imperfections themselves act as friction reducers, enhancing the skate glide.

    High density panels always require the use of a glide enhancer, and may scatter more plastic shavings than do ultra-high density panels.

The very best and most advanced panels are ultra-dense and have beads of oil actually engineered into the polymer itself. You'll get constant and even lubrication, and the lowest COF. These panels are also very pricey, being a new technology. Depending on your needs, they may be overkill, unless you have money to burn or are Olympic or NHL candidates!

Second: The Synthetic Panels You Choose Should Offer a Rock-Bottom Coefficient of Friction (COF) - the Lower the Better

The densest polymers have the lowest COF - 10% or lower. A COF of over 20% means it will not be fun to skate - you'll feel like you're 'walking' more than skating.

Very low friction results in:

  • High gliding ability - as close to ice as possible. This makes for ideal training and skating sessions. Plus, muscle development and memory is reinforced correctly.
  • Reduced dulling of skate blades. Medium to lower density synthetic has increased friction which wears your blades more rapidly, necessitating more frequent sharpening.
  • Low wear on the panels. The better the quality, the less abrasion, or shaving off of the panels, or deep scratches. This means increased longevity and less littering of shavings around the rink that can stick to clothes and increase friction.

Third: Look for Tight/Seamless Fitting of the Panels

You don't want the blade catching on edges or ankles breaking. Snug tongue-in-groove and dovetail fittings help control the fluctuations caused by temperature changes.

Fourth: The Manufacturer Should Not Have to Recommend Glide Enhancers, Ideally

High-tech oil embedded polymers eliminate the need for lubricants.

But the truth is - nearly every synthetic panel on the market today does require at least an occasional application of lubrication, some more than others. This is because polyethylene panels, even the very dense ones, are dry, requiring a glide enhancer.

Engineered specialty polymers with embedded oils release those oils when the heat of the blade makes contact with the surface. These oils reduce the amount of friction and therefore the amount of wear and tear.

These ideal synthetic surfaces are also more expensive, due to the engineering required to embed the oil. But, if you obtain the best, you'll also save on maintenance over the long haul. There will be fewer shavings to sweep up, less enhancer to wash out of your clothes after falling, and you'll enjoy your practice sessions and skating even more.

In the meantime...

Fifth: Choose Water-Soluble Glide Enhancers

Avoid silicone or glycerin solutions. See Synthetic Ice Information for more detail on glide enhancers.

Practice Your Skills on a Synthetic Ice Rink

Do you enjoy hockey? Do you play hockey competitively? Ice skate? Figure skate? All these skills can be enjoyed and practiced on a synthetic ice rink...

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