Synthetic ice can be used instead of a real ice surface for your backyard ice rink or for even the largest commercial indoor ice rink.
Or, install a synthetic practice rink in your basement for use in the summer while your backyard ice rink is nothing but a puddle and a memory. Don't worry - you can use your regular ice skates that have metal blades on the synthetic surface.
Synthetically made ice is usually very lightweight, has low friction and is made of strong, wear-resistant plastic or polymer that is used for skating with regular ice skates that have metal blades.
A tremendous amount of research has been done - there are definitely some synthetic surfaces for ice rinks that are better than other synthetic surfaces!
What is Synthetic Ice?
Synthetic ice is a high-tech plastic polymer on which you can skate. It resembles a white plastic cutting board in texture. But, these are giant panels, usually 4 feet by 8 feet that resemble huge jigsaw puzzles. The dovetail or tongue-in-groove joints anchor the panels together snugly, ensuring a smooth and seamless skating experience.
These specially engineered polymers permit a skate blade to glide almost as smoothly as if on real ice.
The panels are usually made from very high molecular weight polyethylene (VHMWPE), or better, ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE). These surfaces are typically 'dryer' than the high-tech plastic polymers with oils embedded. In almost all cases, the regular (if occasional) sprayed application of a glide enhancer is required.
The very best (and most expensive, of course) synthetic panels are fabricated from ultra-high density (UHMW) polyethylene polymers with lubricating oils embedded directly in the polymer.
When you skate on ice, you're gliding on a thin film of water created by the heat of the blade's friction, which melts the ice. On these top-of-the-line oil-embedded polymers, the skating friction releases built-in lubrication, so the blade glides smoothly from start to finish without the need for any glide enhancers.
Most polymer panels are at least 1/2 inch thick. Some companies manufacture a 3/8 inch thick panel, and the most heavy-duty commercial panels are 3/4 inches thick. If desired, you can special-order 1" panels from a few firms.
The polymer is not damaged by high or low temperatures and is UV protected.
Solid polymer panels are waterproof. If outside, you can skate on a wet surface. In fact, it might be even better when wet, depending on the panel system you purchase.
Gliding improves with wear. Glide enhancer is always needed except for the truly oil imbedded polymers.