Skating Success

We ask Arena Ice’s James Anderson to explains why a temporary ice rink can be a lucrative addition to a venue during the winter months

There is nothing that gets people more in the festive mood than blades on ice. More and more temporary ice rinks are appearing in the winter months throughout the UK, but they are not just to be found in town centres. The return on investment of a well situated, well promoted rink puts it in the realm of entrepreneurial venue owners and outdoor event organisers alike. In this article we have asked Area Ice’s commercial director James Anderson about undertaking a temporary ice skating venture.

Ice skating

Venue requirements
We can build ice rinks to any size, based on full meter increments, although we most often work to the popular 1:2 ratio (e.g. 15m x 30m for a 450m ice rink). Square rinks are also practical and can be extremely attractive with the installation of decorative centrepieces such as Christmas trees or illuminated sculptures.

Venues will need to have access to a water supply; just a garden hose is all that is required to fill a rink, although high water pressure will speed up the procedure. During the installation process, good vehicle access is always desirable, preferably with enough room to manoeuvre a forklift to unload palletised equipment into a secure ‘holding bay’ on site. However, our team are experienced in accommodating site restrictions, such as steps or low barrier heights. As the majority of Arena Ice equipment is modular, it is often possible to ‘carry’ or ‘skate’ the kit to the build location. Technical equipment such as chillers, generators, buffer tanks, pumps and hoses are heavier and therefore less manoeuvrable by hand, requiring vehicular support for unloading on site.

Ice installation
The time it takes to set up an ice rink can vary from between two days to two weeks, depending on the scale and the complexity of the project. However, the breakdown is quicker and typically takes between one day and one week, depending on requirements for the ‘melt’. The ice melting process governs when the rink equipment and substructure can be removed. Clients have the option of a ‘natural melt’ whereby the ambient temperature melts the ice of its own accord after the chiller units have been switched off, or an ‘assisted melt’ using a boiler or heat pump chiller to warm the refrigerant glycol circulating within the rink mat; this allows the ice to be removed within 24 to 48 hours of closure.

Rink maintenance
The ice rink requires daily maintenance, including checks at the beginning and end of each day, as well as between each skate session to ensure public safety. We recommend an ice pad is resurfaced between skate sessions during an allocated 15 minute changeover period every hour. ‘Redressing’ or ‘resurfacing’ a temporary ice rink involves the removal of ‘snow’, which is the formation of small chips of ice caused by the action of the skate blades running over the hardened ice surface. The quantity of snow varies, depending on the ambient temperature and the number of skaters, and can be controlled to some extent by adjusting the refrigerant set-point temperature of the chiller units. Rinks of up to 450m² in size are typically ‘redressed’ by hand, while those with larger dimensions require the use of mechanical resurfacing machines to increase the speed of maintenance.

Ice skating shoesStaff training
Whether supplied by us or recruited by the event venue, an ice technician or rink manager tasked with maintaining the rink will need to be on site up to one hour before the rink opens in the morning to complete daily safety and infrastructure checks. Ice maintenance is also required, including filling in any localised damage caused by skate blades. The main resurfacing work is carried out at the end of the day when the rink is clear.

The resurfacing team could be on site for up to one hour after closing, clearing the snow and laying a thin layer of water across the surface of the rink, which will effectively form a fresh, perfectly level, smooth surface ready for the following morning. Arena Ice provides staff training covering everything that a rink manager needs to know, plus additional tailored support packages to suit individual needs and levels of experience, including visits to other rinks and training on resurfacing equipment.

Ice rink costs
For a basic hire package, prices start at around £30K for an entry level 180m² rink. For a 1,000m² rink with all supportive infrastructure including ice café bar, skate exchange, Zamboni (ice resurfacer) and garage, melt pit, skates, skate aids and so on, the cost would be £200K plus.

The event duration has a bearing on rental cost, which covers the equipment’s operational hours. Chiller ‘red diesel’ usage costs can be estimated by allowing one litre of fuel per square metre of ice, per day. This would also ensure sufficient power to operate lighting, sound and a basic structure heating package, taking into consideration that varying weather conditions will have an impact on total fuel usage.

We recommend allowing 80-120 litres of water per square metre to fill the rink; this again may vary depending on the thickness required for a mechanically resurfaced rink. After this, regular ‘flooding’ can perfectly resurface the rink using minimal quantities of water. It is important to include a fresh drinking water supply to your hospitality or refreshment areas, insulating all outdoor pipe work to protect against freezing winter temperatures. At Arena Ice we can provide temporary structures for pop-up cafes, bars and restaurants, all of which are kitted out to suit the theme or design of your choice; whether you want a Lapland environment, alpine lodge, cosy lounge or ice bar, the limitations are only set by budget, space and the client’s imagination!

Ice Rink

Skating sessions
We recommend a typical skating session lasts 45 minutes, starting on the hour and leaving a 15 minute period for resurfacing the rink before the next session and the changeover of skates. We offer a full ‘turnkey’ service, including the provision of metal hand scrapers with every rink package, leisure skates and fun skating aids for younger children in the form of two-seater ‘Bananas’ or standing ‘Penguins’. Optional rink access gates, DDA compliant ramps with safety handrails, skate racks, service counters and benches to kit out skate exchange areas can also be supplied.

It is important to keep in mind that in reality some sessions will be quieter than others, with the peak pre-Christmas weekends and school holidays often reaching capacity throughout. We outline an initial formula for skating return on investment:

Rink size / capacity (divided by three) x number of sessions per day x number of operational days x average ticket price

For example:

  • A 600m² ice rink has a recommended maximum capacity of 200 skaters per session (45 minutes) allowing a capacity of 3m² of ice per skater
  • 200 skaters multiplied by 12 sessions per day = 2,400 potential ticket sales per day
  • Multiply by 55 operational days = 132,000 potential ticket sales for the event
  • Multiply by an average ticket price of £7.50 = £990,000 maximum ticket sale revenue
  • Plus skate aid rental (at £4-6 per 45-minute session).

Venue considerations
Venue owners and operators need to be aware of the different levels of service available when selecting their supply partners. It is often too late when the bad weather hits and any failings in infrastructure are apparent; there is more to good value for money than simply cost.

We are very fortunate in terms of our level of investment; we own our aluminium rink system and associated products, which enables us to remain truly competitive and provide a full turnkey package for operators, including state of the art ticketing systems. It’s an ongoing challenge for operators these days to balance creating a fabulous event with making a healthy profit, so the choice of event partner is crucial for support, success and building a positive reputation for the future.

Ice rink benches An imaginative catering offering delivered professionally can reap great financial rewards as well as creating a reputable name for the venue. Themed ‘pop-up’ bars, restaurants and cafés seem to appeal to those members of the public who are seeking new experiences and ways to celebrate with friends and family. Being hands-on enables us to work with our clients to develop innovations, satisfying their ever-growing need to bring originality to their venues.

Operators who are listening to their visitors tend to come back to us time and again for new ideas and details of the latest trends in technology. We completely understand the level of outlay a client needs to commit when promoting an ice rink or winter attraction; we are now prepared to offer risk-share models in the right locations, backed by our reliable infrastructure and experienced teams to give clients the benefit of a truly professional approach.

Future of ice rink installations
We are continually exploring new avenues and combining the latest technology with solid infrastructure. We launched our under-ice LED technology at Van Hage garden centre’s Great Amwell rink last winter to great acclaim from the public. Lighting effects in general work well with ice and this brings out creativity in many a conceptual designer. Our new ice bar technology raises corporate hospitality to another level, but can equally be tailored to product launches and sponsorship opportunities, themed bars and sparkling exhibitions.

Final thought for venues
It may sound like common sense, but it is important to remember that it will be winter and is therefore likely to be cold, wet, windy and possibly icy! It is easy to forget during the late summer planning stage, the significant effects that the UK’s winter weather can have on your venue. These can include a reduction in footfall, parking and access issues, and customer dwell time (how long customers spend on site).

As a British-based company that owns the rink and structure equipment, we understand seasonal challenges like no other. Outdoor areas should be surfaced and where necessary also covered with a reliable low-slip floor covering such as artificial grass or safety flooring. Heating is a must within structures to allow skates to dry out, and to keep staff warm and customers happy. Solid sided glazed structures can help cut drafts, along with cloth ceiling linings, trapping a warm layer of air beneath PVC roof sheets. Linings in general can make a temporary space feel snug and cosy, bringing a feeling of permanence and authenticity to a Christmas experience at your venue or festive event.

About the author
James Anderson is commercial director at Arena Ice, an industry specialist offering contemporary ice rink hire and temporary structures. In 2015, Arena Ice supplied over 14,000 metres of aluminium-based rink mat from its own stock holding during one of the mildest winters since meteorological records began. It can deliver made-to-measure ice rinks to fit event spaces, create bespoke ice slides and curling lanes, install the latest under-ice LED technology and create new illuminated handrail systems to enhance the skating experience.

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