When should you build your backyard rink? Our chief meteorologist weighs in

Backyard rinks can bring a lot of joy to your household - but when you should build depends on where you live. (Getty/File)

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What’s more Canadian than having a rink in your backyard? There’s nothing quite like it.

But deciding how and when to put up the rink can be tricky.

Put it up before the ground is cold, and you’ll get a shallow frigid drinking pool for local wildlife. Wait too long, and your freezing hands will be struggling with a hammer and nails in the dark.

Ideal timing depends on where you live in Canada.

“We are headed for an El Nino winter which generally brings warmer than normal temperatures and less snowfall to much of Canada but the devil is in the details,” says Global News chief meteorologist Anthony Farnell. “There are signs that this may not be your typical El Nino winter with more of a back-and-forth weather pattern, and it could possibly turn very cold and snowy coast to coast for a few weeks in late December or January.”

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Here’s Farnell’s best guesses for when building that rink might work for you:


“Prolonged cold is not likely until the holidays at the earliest. The best time to set up that rink may not be until January, when the nights are long and there are less big swings in temperature.”

Southern Quebec & Eastern Ontario

“The weather normally cooperates from late December right into early March. This year, we are expecting some wild swings in temperature which may limit the ice quality on some of those days or even a week at a time. There’s also a higher risk of ice storms in this region during El Nino winters, which could briefly turn entire neighbourhoods into skating rinks.”

Southern Ontario

“This year, December is likely to be warmer than normal, which doesn’t bode well for setting up the rink much before Christmas. Early January through mid-February is generally the best time in this region.”

Central Canada

“For this region, you can get that backyard rink established much earlier than the rest of the country. Already by late November, temperatures are cold enough and consistent enough to freeze things up solid. This winter is likely to be warmer than normal so don’t be surprised if even in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, there are a few days in January and February where your ice melts.”

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“Alberta is generally very cold through most of the winter but watch out for those Chinook winds. If you are in southern Alberta, keep an eye on the weather forecast and look for those periods where Arctic air settles in. Have fun creating the rink but don’t be surprised if you’re running around in a t-shirt the next week and having to start over. This winter looks particularly mild for the province.”

British Columbia

“A mild winter is on the way for the west coast. It’s generally quite challenging setting up a rink unless you are up in elevation and even then temperatures often climb well above freezing and rain or wet snow can mess up your masterpiece.”

Now you have the right time to build. Do you have the right materials and tools?

Here’s a quick list of things you’ll need to help build that perfect rink.

Rink Kit

If you want the quick solution, grab a rink kit. There are lots of options, but before you buy, measure your space properly — and determine whether it’s level. You’ll also want to think ahead about where you’ll store the rink in the offseason.

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This kit from Canadian company Rink Master comes with everything you need in a box – no lumber required. There’s also a handy how-to guide on the website if your yard is slightly sloped. These kits can accommodate up to an 8-inch slope. There are lots of sizes to choose from.


The DIY method

If you can handle a little manual labour, you can build your own rink.

For this option, you’ll need a few more bits and pieces — and probably some patience. The Home Depot has a handy how-to guide you can follow for construction, but here’s a starter list if you’re sourcing your own materials.


Winging it won’t really work. Get the tape measure out and be sure about your exact dimensions before buying supplies.
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Your backyard may look level, but you’ll want to know just what kind of slope you’re working with. You’ll use this tool again when you’re setting up your boards to make sure everything is levelling out.


After you measure your space, you can go to Home Depot and either pick up some 2×4’s or get wood cut to your specific dimensions. Once the rink is in place, you’ll need some stakes to stop the boards from moving once you fill it.


When you have your frame built, you’ll need a heavy-duty liner to cover the perimeter. Make sure it’s bigger than your frame so you can properly secure it and then cut away any excess material.
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A heavy-duty staple gun will do the trick to secure the tarp in place.

Fill ‘er up

Whether you went the DIY route or you bought a ready-to-build kit, you’ll need to get the water flowing before you can start using the rink. When to fill up will be the ultimate question. ” “For backyard skating rinks, ideal weather is a prolonged period of below freezing temperatures with a few cold, clear and calm nights to get the ice established,” Farnell says.


You’ll want to make sure you have a hose that will function in cold weather. This Flexi hose is a good option. Whatever hose you use, make sure it’s long enough to get to the rink!
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Let the fun begin!

When your rink is ready to go, make it your own.

If you want to practice your shot, make sure the net you’re using is steel and can withstand a Canadian winter. Tip: if there’s a warm spell, take the net off so it doesn’t break through thin ice


hockey net with extra neting
This extra netting will keep those pucks from flying too far, getting buried in the snow – or hitting a window.


One or two pucks won’t do it if you have a little one wanting to work on their shot. Get a bucket and fill it up. You’ll find them scattered around your yard all summer long.
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Work on your stickhandling game with this training kit. You can adjust it for a variety of drill patterns.


Yes, a rink is great for your future NHLer, but it’s also a great way for kids to learn to skate. This skating support will help with balance and give your little one some independence on the ice.


To make the space feel extra special (and avoid any collisions at night) you can string up lights on the fence or hang them from branches.
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How to maintain that picturesque Canadian backyard rink is more art than science. Without a Zamboni, you can get creative with a bucket of warm water and a mop.

If you’re okay with a bit of an investment, this tool from Rink Master has good reviews. The resurfacing device ensures even water distribution.


When it’s all done…

Once the warm air arrives and melts the ice, you may stare at your pool of water and ask yourself: “Now what?” To speed up the bailing-out process, consider investing in a small pump.

Connect this small pump to your hose and turn it on. It may take a few hours, but it’ll do the job.
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Building a rink takes time, money and a lot of patience, both during the build and while maintaining it. The one thing you can’t control? The weather. But when the rink works, it’s magical.

As for my own personal rink in Toronto? Farnell says not to get my hopes up.


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