Every Christmas My Family Builds a Skating Rink

©. Leslie Lewis (used with permission)

Because when you have a lake at your doorstep and conveniently frigid temperatures, it's the logical thing to do.

Every Christmas, you'll find my younger brothers out on the frozen lake, working to build a skating rink for the family to enjoy. My brothers, who are 19 and 21, start their task with gusto, but call for reinforcements before long. Then we older siblings, parents, nephews, and cousins all dress in our snowsuits and head down to the lake, where shovels, brooms, and sheets of plywood are handed out and orders are barked. Usually the overly-ambitious boundaries of the rink need to be redrawn to a more realistic size. Together, we shovel, scrape, and sweep. The cleaner the ice, the smoother the rink will be.

Our tools have gotten higher tech over the years. If the snow is really deep (which doesn't often happen in December), my brothers will pull out the snowblower, which makes short work of clearing, but this only works well if there's more than 8 inches of snow. Even with the snowblower's help, it's still important to start a rink as early in the season as you can – as soon as there's 4 inches of ice – so you don't have to deal with too much snow. That's why it is tough to build a good rink mid-winter.

flooding rink with buckets

© K Martinko – Flooding with buckets in 2013, when it was bitterly cold on Boxing Day

Up until last year we flooded the rink by hand, hauling back-breaking buckets of frigid water out of a terrifying black hole in the ice that used to give me nightmares as a kid, but now my dad has a pump that makes the job miraculously easy. My brother stands by the perilous hole and sprays a big hose all over the cleared area until it's covered in water. If the temperature is really cold, say -30C (-22F), the ice will be ready for skating in an hour, but at -5C (23F), we have to wait a while. Usually my brothers flood the rink at night so it's ready to go in the morning.

The hard work is all worth it when we lace up our skates and hit the smooth ice for the first time. Suddenly we're all spinning and twirling, chasing each other and whacking at hockey pucks. The beauty of a skating rink on a lake is that less experienced skaters can fly right off the edge into a snowbank, triggering gales of laughter. We usually have a Christmas Day hockey game with guests and on New Year's Eve my parents have been known to set up paper-bag candles around the perimeter for dramatic effect.

boys skating

© Leslie Lewis (used with permission)

The rink stays there for most of the winter. It doesn't receive the same level of care as it does at Christmastime, but it's still where my family goes to exercise on those frigidly cold days when we just need to get outside. Eventually the day comes when we're warned to stay off it, as the ice is turning slushy and thin. Before long the rink is gone, melted back into the lake, the ultimate form of zero waste, nature-based entertainment.