Cold front

Ice arena gets new surface

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— The Howelsen Ice Arena has undergone a face-lift. Well, it's more like an ice lift.

The Olympic-sized sheet of ice at the downtown indoor facility has been replaced and upgraded this spring, and arena officials said removing the old sheet and install a new one was timely and complicated.

"The longer a sheet of ice stays in, the more it begins to degrade," said Rob Hodnett, arena supervisor and adult hockey coordinator. "Constant use can build up 'scar tissue' from normal skate damage, and lots of particulates accumulate in the sheet."

The particulate matter in----cludes damaging materials such as dust, dirt and clothing fibers.

Additionally, Steamboat's dry air pulls the moisture from the ice sheet, causing it to become brittle.

"If things go well, we should get a couple years out of this new sheet," Hodnett said.

The first step in installing the new sheet was removing the old one, a process that was done during two days by turning off the refrigeration equipment, opening the rink and pushing the softened ice out the door.

Putting in the new sheet began with cooling the concrete arena floor to about 16 degrees Fahrenheit so thin layers of water could be put down to begin building the new sheet.

Each new layer of ice was sprayed with several coats of a water-soluble latex paint to give the ice its white color.

"The first thing people will notice about the new sheet of ice is how much brighter it looks," Hodnett said. "The old sheet used a thin, white tissue paper instead of white paint for its base color, and, especially this last season, it caused the sheet to have more of a dull gray color rather than bright white."

The new hand-painted logos and lines also will stand out against the bright white.

The Steamboat Resorts and Steamboat Motors logos -- the larger logos that appear in the ice rather than just on the boards -- are put on the ice using a paper stencil with tiny pin holes outlining the designs. The stencils are powdered in with blue chalk so that they remain visible when the paper stencil is removed.

"The whole painting process is very labor-intensive and takes several days to complete," Hodnett said.

The time-consuming process has prompted many arenas to switch to a vinyl mesh for their lines and logos instead of paint. The ice arena staff will experiment with the mesh's durability on the new sheet of ice.

"We have placed a small vinyl logo in one end of the ice as a test to see how it performs," Hodnett said. "If it works out well, we may go to all vinyl when it comes time to replace the ice again."

When the painting is done, the rest of the ice sheet is built up with thin layers of hot water flooded onto the surface. Workers use hot water because it has less dissolved air, which can make ice cloudy and slow.

Using thin layers of ice -- rather than one thick layer -- serves a similar purpose. The thin layers eliminate the amount of trapped air.

When the ice thickness reaches one-half inch, the Zamboni is used to complete the final layer, bringing the total ice thickness to 1 1/2 inches.

Installing the new sheet requires about 15,000 gallons of water, Hodnett said.

All costs associated with building a new sheet of ice come out of the ice arena's budget, which is a part of the city of Steamboat Springs' general fund.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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