Steamboat Springs Five-year-old Mia McNamara had enough skating Wednesday afternoon.
She wanted the color back in her cheeks and something to eat. So as her three brothers continued to skate around the family’s homemade, home-run skating rink, Mia simply walked off the ice, took about 15 paces and went into the family’s home.
“I like that I can come out at night because you can jump in the snow,” Mia said, color still not fully back to her cheeks. “But you can go inside any time you want to warm up.”
That’s the beauty of the McNamaras’ home rink.
It’s certainly not huge, but it’s more than adequate to house neighborhood three-on-three hockey games, shootouts and lots of hours of playing.
“Hey,” said dad and creator Blair McNamara, beaming as much as any of his four children. “All in the name of hockey.”
Blair and his wife, Michelle, and 11-year-old Jack, 10-year-old Grant, 7-year-old Ryan and Mia, moved to Steamboat Springs four years ago from Minnesota.
Blair grew up playing on outdoor rinks. In Minnesota, outdoor rinks are the norm. There’s something about them, Blair said: They bring the game of hockey back to an earlier time — a time and place where children played the game.
“For me, there isn’t a lot of outdoor ice rinks,” Blair said. “The great experience of hockey is outdoors. That’s the memories.”
So when he got a job at Steamboat Resorts and found the family’s house on Steamboat Boulevard, one look at the yard gave Blair his vision.
It started two years ago. The family put in a retaining wall and had a rink. But in the fall, Blair — who Michelle calls a perfectionist — decided the family could do better. With the help of friends Shawn Sullivan, who had a Bobcat, and Walter Magill, who did the surveying, Blair’s vision started to take shape.
They brought in two tons of dirt and seed to put over the side yard. After it was shot to grade, a thick plastic liner was put down. Pieces of wood made the outside walls and then it was time to flood the rink.
It took three nights of flooding with a hose to get two inches of ice.
“You need cold nights for the ice to set up,” Blair said. “If you get snow, it’s not going to freeze right. You have to watch the weather and be an amateur meteorologist.”
It may seem like a lot of work, but the McNamaras are a hockey family. Jack, Grant and Ryan play, and Mia more than holds her own.
It’s not uncommon for any of the children to play at least three nights a week on the home rink. Lights stand at each end, making night play easy.
“I was surprised he wanted to put a rink in,” said Michelle, who estimates that Blair puts in about 10 hours a week on the rink. “I didn’t realize he’d take so much time. As you can tell, there’s a lot of perfection.
“But I love it. The kids can get home and go play on the pond. They’re not sitting inside in front of the PlayStation.”
What’s even more impressive is the actual playing surface. Outdoor ponds can have the tendency to get beat up and create an uneven playing surface.
But Blair had an answer to that. After big snows, he’ll snow blow the ice, shovel it off and turn to his homemade Zamboni.
It’s two pieces of PVC pipe that form a T. The horizontal part has little holes in it with a part of a yoga mat trailing it. The handle has a valve at the end that hooks to a hose. Blair will run hot water over the ice, the yoga mat distributes it evenly and the ice comes out level.
“It’s my passion. I love hockey. I play it all the time,” Jack said, skating circles on the ice. “It’s different. It’s better, in a way. You don’t have to go anywhere. It’s a lot of fun being out here. It’s best when the days are nice outside.”
That’s what it’s really about for the McNamara family. It’s the children and their friends getting out and playing hockey.
It’s Blair passing something he loved back to his children.
“It’s like the old saying. Skating is like riding a bike. Once you get your skates on, it all comes back,” Blair said. “I love it out here, hearing the puck clatter off the boards or the puck going off the net. I just looked at this as an opportunity.”