No ice, no dice

Mild weather scorches outdoor rinks

Victoria Park’s outdoor rink, one of 17 outdoor rinks in Kingston, has been out of service for the entire winter, due to mild weather conditions.
Victoria Park’s outdoor rink, one of 17 outdoor rinks in Kingston, has been out of service for the entire winter, due to mild weather conditions.
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Outdoor skating rinks are suffering this winter and a lack of cold weather may be the culprit.

The City of Kingston typically operates 17 outdoor rinks, but weather conditions have been a hindrance to the work of staff and volunteers who dedicate their time to maintaining the ice.

“It’s entirely weather dependent, unfortunately,” said Operations Manager of Public Works Troy Stubinski, who manages the maintenance of the City’s outdoor rinks in the winter. “It’s been a real challenge. We actually had a base on a lot of the rinks and lost it because of [recent weather], so we’re back to square one.”

Preparing the ice takes three to four consecutive nights of below freezing temperatures, and enough frost on the ground to hold the water and prevent it from seeping through.

“Last year we only had 20 ‘skate-able’ days, between when we opened on Jan. 15 and around mid-March,” Stubinski said, noting that previous years have seen over double that amount.

These seasonal changes caught the attention of a group of researchers at Wilfred Laurier University’s geography and environmental studies department. They launched an online project called RinkWatch, which aims to track the usability of outdoor skating rinks across Canada.

Functioning as a typical crowd-sourcing website, RinkWatch allows the public to update the state of their local rinks on an interactive map.

“Ideally, there would be hundreds of repeat users who input information each week,” said co-founder Robert McLeman, an associate professor at Laurier. “It’s definitely a long-term project.”

Research that inspired RinkWatch’s launch found that certain areas of Canada will have no outdoor rinks 50 years from now.

“It’s a personal connection because when we talk about climate change, we invoke images like ice caps and polar bears, which are more abstract to us,” McLeman said. “If you talk about changes in conditions in people’s backyards, they can immediately see the connection.”

While milder conditions diminish the lifespan of sports like outdoor hockey, it allows for other sports to endure year-round.

This year, Queen’s Athletics introduced outdoor soccer and touch football intramurals, to be played from January through March. Weather permits the usability of fields which were snow-covered in previous years.

The University bought snow removal equipment in case of a serious snowfall.

“We’re trying to make the most of the resources we have,” said Duane Parliament, Queen’s Intramurals Coordinator. “When we first got Tindall [Field], the usability was phenomenal and we realized we can run things 12 months of the year.”

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