Temporary rink for US figure skaters is built to perfection

The Convention and Exhibition Center is hosting some junior competitions and practices for the US Figure Skating Championships.
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
The Convention and Exhibition Center is hosting some junior competitions and practices for the US Figure Skating Championships.

The process of building an ice rink inside a building not designed to hold one, such as the cavernous Hall A of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, and then having that ice surface perform immediately at a championship level requires a significant amount of engineering and antifreeze.

But so far, the figure skaters who have skated on the ice are saying the best thing that can be said: nothing.

“You definitely hear complaints if it’s not good,” Cory Portner, the ice technician for US Figure Skating, said as he checked the vitals using an app that measures just about everything you could want to know about a sheet of ice. He knew that the last cut he had done on his Zamboni had shaved 0.015 inches from the surface; he knew that the surface temperature was still 23 degrees, exactly what it was at that moment at TD Garden and the Skating Club of Boston, which they were trying to match; and he knew the big-picture stats for a day when workers would do 15 to 17 cuts on the ice and then need to spend another two hours at night cutting and watering to get it tabletop-flat again.


The rink, which is hosting some of the junior competitions and practices for the US Figure Skating Championships, is the largest thing they have erected inside the largest building in New England. After television scheduling problems made it impossible to use Walter Brown Arena at Boston University, as initially planned, the Skating Club of Boston, which is hosting the event, brought in a company called Ice Rink Events, which has a rink on the beach in San Diego, to build a rink inside the cavernous convention space.

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Joe Blount, the operations director for the event, said the rink cost about $130,000 to construct, plus another $50,000 to build bleachers along one side.

Bob Hanson of Norwood, who works for Ice Rink Events, oversaw much of the construction, which involves laying more than 30 miles of “chiller lines.” These lines are refrigeration hoses with 3,700 gallons of glycol running through them at a chilly 13 degrees, all powered by a 450-ton refrigeration unit they call The Big Chiller, which fills an entire loading dock outside.

The basic concept of the tubing system, which is called an ice mat, was invented for the early space programs.

“It’s the same stuff, just on a much grander scale,” said Mike Clayton, co-owner of Ice Rink Events. Once they get the lines cold, they get ice to form on them, and build a foundation.


The rink is the third in South Boston, after the “big rink” and the “little rink” inside the Murphy Rink at Castle Island, and the neighborhood newcomer actually owes some of its life to the two old-timers. The construction crews used snow from the Murphy Rink to build a dam around the edges of the convention center rink, creating a bathtub they could then fill with water.

It is a four-day process to go from convention center floor to figure skating-caliber ice surface. They like it four to six degrees warmer than a hockey rink, “because they want to carve in and flow or be able to make a nice toe pick hole,” Hanson said. “Hockey players want to grab and bite and stop and start.”

US Figure Skating keeps its ice to very tight standards, “with the idea being the ice is consistent for each participant so it’s fair and equal,” Hanson said.

They take temperature readings all over the ice during each resurfacing and remain in constant contact with TD Garden, where the main events are taking place, to try to keep pace with their readings.

“We’re adjusting things all day long,” Portner said, “to try and mimic them.”


When the competitions are over on Wednesday and they cut the power to the Big Chiller, the rink, like all the other unusual things they have built inside the cavernous convention halls — a Ferris wheel, a sailboat with a giant mast — will have to disappear as though it were never there. It is a circus-sized dismantling, and the trickiest part is getting rid of that 200-by-85 foot chunk of unbroken ice they spent so much time creating.

You could just wait for it to melt, but that takes a lot of time and makes a big sloppy mess. So they take that beautiful, perfectly level piece of glass they had been obsessing over, smash it into pieces with air tampers, finish the job with sledgehammers, and then throw it outside and hope for some sun.

Billy Baker can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.