Skating on thin ice: perfectly safe at ice rink in Winterswijk

People ice skating on the rink in Winterswijk on Sunday (Photo: Jacob Doornheim)

When Friesland enjoyed the first natural ice of the winter season, members of Dutch ice skating club the Winterswijkse IJs Vereniging (WIJV) skated on their rink for the third time already. A special technique makes the rink freeze faster so it is skating-ready after only one night of frost.

“It was wonderful to see a hundred and fifty happy faces”, Hendrik van Prooije, a member of WIJV, says of the rink’s opening last Sunday. Because of the curfew currently instated in The Netherlands, they were not sure if they could ensure the rink’s freezing overnight. “But we were back on Sunday morning at 4.35 a.m. and managed to get a thick enough layer to skate on.”

Following corona measures, two shifts of 75 people could enjoy the ice rink on Sunday (Photo: Hendrik van Prooije)

This layer of ice is then still only about 3 to 4 millimetres thick and the rink in Winterswijk is one of the few ice rinks in the Netherlands that could be skated on.

Van Prooije started the search for an efficient rink in 2017, when the ice skating club lost their original location. Because of increasingly high temperatures in winter, this rink hardly ever froze over, which meant the club was quickly losing members.

“We needed to find a method that would make the ice freeze faster”, Van Prooije says. He found the answer at an ice rink on the other side of the country.

“They spray a layer of water on the rink and let it freeze before adding another layer, which means the rink as a whole is frozen really quickly” Van Prooije says.

Water is sprayed on the rink layer by layer, to create a complete rink overnight (Photo’s: Hendrik van Prooije)

WIJV decided to use the same method for their new rink, but there was one other problem. “The thaw usually sets in from the soil, which stays a lot warmer. So we had to find a way to insulate the rink from below.”

To find the best possible method, Van Prooije was already in contact with researchers from the Universities of Wageningen and Twente, and in early 2020, master’s student in mechanical engineering Michael Hop joined the WIJV team.

“The unique aspect of this rink is that we use both a spraying system to create the ice and an insulating layer to keep the ice frozen.” Hop explains. “Because the rink can be ready overnight, the chance that you’re able to skate is big, even during a relatively warm winter.”

The ice rink in Winterswijk has attracted a lot of attention over the past few months. Hop understands the commotion: “I was not big on ice skating before, but after working on this rink I’m thinking of buying a new pair of ice skates.

He is not the only one. In a year’s time, WIJV grew from a mere 39 to over 150 members. “And after the past weekend, an additional 150 members signed up” Van Prooije says. “We can’t believe what has come over us.”

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