"Rinks don't need to be money pits" – Colleen O'Shea

Rink Management, Rinks

Chicago’s Outdoor Summertime Rink

Skate by the Lake

Skate by the Lake - photo courtesy of Navy Pier

Chicago’s 100-year-old Navy Pier has added another attraction to the many reasons that over 9 million residents and visitors a year flock to this leisure destination on shores of Lake Michigan. Called Skate By the Lake, it’s an outdoor rink for summer-only skating, and it’s helping to mark the Navy Pier’s Centennial anniversary.

At 82-feet long and 66-feet wide, the rink could fit comfortably into a  200×85 foot-NHL-sized rink. Located in what is now called the “Polk Bros Park”, the 13-acre park will carry that name for the next 25 years, named after the furniture and appliance retailing family who donated $20 million to the non-profit Pier in 2014 so the park could be completely re-imagined.

Outdoor Summertime Rink

That re-imagination, of course, includes the outdoor summertime rink, complete with music, lights and that all-important disco ball! Although a tent blocks the sun overhead, helping to protect the ice and keep it cold, the sides are kept open so the skaters are able to take in the views.

In fact, it’s not the first time the Polks have been involved in an outdoor summertime rink. In 1953, the family had an outdoor rink built on one of their store’s parking lots to help promote their appliance business. Often, the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks would practice there and, as you can imagine, it was quite the draw as the spectators were able to watch them practice, at no charge.

The rink itself is a portable, state-of-the-art rink that uses glycol running through aluminum pipes. When I spoke with Patrick Gardner, the rink’s production manager, it was 89°F outside, but his ice was set at a chilly 24°F.

“The ice is set at zero right now, and it comes back at 4°F,” he tells me.

Portable and Efficient

“This is a portable system, and it’s SO efficient,” Gardner says. “It’s the same system that’s been used outdoors on Bondi Beach in Australia, in Mexico — and in Orange County. We also use it for the PNC Bank Winter WonderFest where we have 170,000 square feet of wintertime entertainment. So it will run here until Halloween, and then it will get moved indoors.”

The system was obtained through Ice-America, the American arm of Dutch-based manufacturer Ice-World International, who also have supplied Navy Pier with the distinctly orange rental skates as well as learn-to-skate skating aides in the shape of seals. As far as outdoor solutions go, Ice-World International says climate is not a consideration for their rinks:

Both large and small Ice-World outdoor ice rinks can be installed anywhere at any time of the year regardless of the climate, in cold or warm weather, and high ice quality is guaranteed thanks to the Ice-World system.

The Skate by the Lake’s ice is four inches thick  — 1 inch to cover the aluminum tubing and then another three inches of ice on top of that.

“We keep it thick to protect our investment,” Gardner says.

As for the rinks’ popularity, Gardner says there have been about 1,200 people on the ice in the 9 days it’s been open. It costs $15 if you need to rent skates, but just $10 if you have your own.

“People walk by and they think the people they see are roller skating,” Gardner tells me. “It’s hard to convince them that it’s real ice. But it is.”


Navy Pier
600 East Grand Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611


  1. I was going to say that they do something like that here, and then I got to the part where it said “Orange County,” and I guess they do EXACTLY that here!

    • Yes, Leona, you’re right. Orange County uses the exact-same portable system. It’s not just a good idea, but it seems to be quite energy efficient too. I’ll be writing more about Ice-World International and Ice-America in an upcoming post.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Colleen
    Nice post!
    Please check out Sun Valley Resort. They have two rinks, one inside and one outdoors where in the summertime they do a skating show. They have a retractable cover over the ice for open skate and open it for the ice show. By the way when you were a Hound in Wilcox, SK did they have a Zamboni or Olympia there? It is a nice community out there – I came up for a visit for a possible job at the rink. I know they recently tore down their old rink. It had the largest ice surface in Canada.

    • Thanks, Nick, I will take a look. There are SO many rinks out there, and sometimes I get lucky and find some interesting stories. I can’t remember what equipment we had at Notre Dame when I went to school there — the truth is, Father Murray had just passed away the year before, and the College was going through perhaps its toughest times ever, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. But they made it, and today it is certainly a thriving high school. I was there for the Arts program. And not all that interested in hockey then. Can you imagine the kind of great hockey writer I would have been if I had only started then??? Ha!

      You have a very famous name! Any relation to Angela? I know she did a girl’s training session recently at the Twin Rinks facility that’s owned now by Charles Wang (NYIslanders) and tried reaching out to their PR team to write something about that, but never got an answer. I know that facility cost $52 million and swiftly went into bankruptcy, being picked up for a song — $8 million.

      Thanks for being a subscriber, and thanks for your story idea!

  3. Colleen O’Shea, I am sorry i am not related to her. If I was, I would be doing her ice. I will admit hockey players, figure skaters and open skate the ice will vary depending on were the venue is. Having done ice in different places with various equipment I have learned a lot. The biggest problem I have had is getting equipment back to working order. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Take Care. I’m a Rink Rat at Heart and Go Hounds!

Leave a Reply

Theme by Anders Norén