Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Makin' Ice For the Mouse

Mickey Mouse, that is. My icemaking blog entry last year was my most popular post. It got picked up on a couple of message boards (many thanks to whoever did that) and was read by people around the world. Way cool. I know everyone is mostly interest in things that relate to hockey, but the ice is what makes hockey our game, and I think the ice itself is fascinating. If you do too, then read on...

Disney's Princess Classics show rolled in to town for performances all last week. They actually got the ice before the Cyclones did. Disney is very protective of their "brand" and very concerned about overall production value, so they have some fairly strict specifications. Most notably, the ice has to be white - plain, blank, white. No hockey lines, no on-ice adverts, nothing. If you're making ice just for them (For instance, High School Musical on Ice coming to Conseco Field House in Indy) then you simply put down the white paint as described in the icemaking blog, and then flood with clear water.

Laying down the white over the hockey lines is another matter completely. It's not practical for remove the hockey ice, re-make for the show, then remove that and re-make it for hockey. So, what you do is paint white over top of the hockey lines. What a nightmare!

First you have to make sure there is enough clear over top of the hockey lines so that when you eventually shave off the painted coat, you don't take out the hockey lines by accident. Then it's back onto the ice with the white ice paint. Small batches are mixed in pump-type bug sprayers. This is sprayed over the hockey lines and ads so that the thickest coating is covering the lines. But, you still want a consistent appearance.

So, out comes the big cart with the large pipe and misters and the 55 gallon drum of paint mix. The necessary surface gets painted. High School Musical On Ice gets the whole surface but other shows get a smaller, more intimate, surface. For this the deck material is put down around the perimeter. Only the exposed part needs to be painted, but a little more is painted just to be sure.

Then, like before, thin layers of clear water are applied until there is enough to drive the Zamboni on it for flooding. To keep the water contained in the 'box' a rope is laid out on the ice around the perimeter. Flooding is done in layers, sometimes with two Zambonis going at once. Just like for hockey, you have to put down enough to be sure to be able to resurface without cutting out the paint.

The ice gets much thicker than usual, and it takes a lot longer for the water to freeze. Ice itself is a natural insulator. One inch of ice has about the same insulating quality as one inch of fiberglass insulation. So, the top of the ice is about 2 inches from the concrete floor and it actually is insulated by the lower portion of the ice. This makes the surface more soft than usual, which figure skaters actually prefer.

Then the show loads in all their set and props. In true Disney fashion, the Princess Classics show is a massive set. The Cincinnati Enquirer has a nice article, including descriptions of the set. Props and moveable set pieces are kept back stage on and around the ice surface. Getting from the normal Zamboni tunnel to the skating are is an obstacle course around these things and through curtains. The tunnel and back tunnel area is loaded with props, crates, extra dressing areas, production areas, costumes, etc. It is a virtual traveling city. They even bring their own washers and dryers for their clothes and costumes. That makes perfect sense - but it's not something you think about. I know I pretty much took those shows for granted. The inside view was amazing.

So, back to the ice. Driving the Zamboni is tricky in the smaller box area - especially around the outwardly curved castle. There really isn't a good pattern like for hockey. I don't think I did it the same way twice in ten shows' worth of resurfacing. Maintaining and grooming the ice is tricky too. The skaters start rehearsals and 8:00 AM, practice off and on all day, then practice more AFTER the show. This keeps the ice a mess, and reduces time to fix it.

We didn't give them perfect ice every night, but I'm happy to report that the skaters were more than satisfied and told us they liked it.

When the show's over, the roadies pack up all their stuff and bug out within hours, leaving the arena with a thick, screwed up, 3/4 painted ice surface to restore to hockey. It took from Early Monday morning to late Wednesday afternoon to shave out all the paint then flood back a couple of coats in time for the "Open House" event Wednesday evening.

I lost count on the Zamboni loads of snow we took off, but it was easily dozens. As it gets low and the hockey lines and logos finally begin to show, we have to be careful not to shave too deep in those area. At first it is fairly easy to drive around on the Zamboni shaving deeply. But then frequent adjustments are needed.

The Zamboni gets clogged up with the massive amount of snow, and must be hosed out about every third tankful of snow. Once it gets into the paint, this rinse out is a mess. That white paint is insidious stuff. It splashes everywhere and gets into everything. But it is gratifying to see this. We knew we were getting somewhere, finally.

All this shaving is murder on the Zamboni's cutting blade. We went through three of four blades on both machines in the process. They will all have to be sent out and resharpened before the hockey season starts.

Hopefully somebody reading this attended the Open House - and hopefully you had no idea what went on over the past 10 days at the arena. If everything was restored seemlessly, then we did our jobs.

Please leave comments on that or anything else...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

very informative!

-A Bombers Fan

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Kyra said...

This is great info to know.

4:06 PM  

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