Even though his arena is mostly used for hockey, 61-year-old Fred Kilner learned about reading the ice from a figure skating coach.

“He wasn’t even on the ice yet and he tells me, ‘The ice is too hard.’.”

“Too hard?” I replied. “How can you tell that from here?”

“”Don’t you know how to read the ice?’he asked back.”

“I told him I didn’t.”

“‘Come with me and I’ll teach you about ice — Ice Reading 101!’ So I listened to what he had to say, and I’ve been reading the ice ever since.”

Reading the Ice

Fred Kilner

Fred Kilner. Got Ice?

It’s been about seven years since Fred, the Facility Supervisor at the Fuller Lake Arena in the District of North Cowichan, BC has been part of the team that participates in the annual ice building. But that doesn’t matter. He can still read it.

“We’re always thinking about where the ice needs to be about four hours from now,” he tells me. “We’re ice makers here — not ice cleaners,” he says proudly. “There are a lot of ice cleaners around, but not so many ice makers left.”

Fred began his ice making career in 1992 and has been there ever since.

“I’m an old time mechanic who got a skate patrol job in an arena. And I happened to stay here,” he tells me.

The Secrets of Great Ice

Even though his arena has been equipped with digital control systems to monitor the ice, brine temperature and equipment, Fred likes to take a visual approach to what his ice needs. I asked him about the figure skating coach. What great secrets did he share?

“He told me to really take a look at the ice, and understand what it was telling me. The ice we had on that particular day had no shine to it at all. It was dull and grey. It didn’t look happy.”

“‘Does that look like good ice to you?’ he asked me. ‘No,’ I told him it doesn’t.'”

“‘It’s telling you the ice is too hard. You’ve got to look at the ice,’ he said, ‘read the ice — and adjust’. “

“He said that good ice has a bit of a shine and it looks good. Ice that is too shiny and pretty can be too warm and soft — or it may even be too thin,'” Fred says.

“He was the one that got us to think about the ice. That was back in 1994.”

What’s Your Temperature At?

Fred Kilner

Fred Kilner’s office at Fuller Lake Arena

Fred says that he has gotten phone calls from people in other facilities asking him what ice temperatures they run at — so they can have similar ice.

“It’s not that easy,” Fred tells them. “Each facility is different in size, age and usage. Each one has to find their own temperatures, the temperature range that works for them.”  

“I tell them that we let our ice makers be ice makers,” he says. “Our team can look at the ice and can tell just by looking at it where it’s thick and where it’s thin, if it is too warm or too cold. By reading the ice, they know exactly what they need to do with the resurfacer when they get it on the ice. Like where they need to put water. And where not to put water. Where do they want the ice temps set, or if the temps look okay. And so on.”

“Reading the ice is really an art!”

Flexibility

Fred Kilner

Fred Kilner at the Fuller Lake Arena

In the end, Fred says it’s all about making ice.

“Our bosses trust us enough so if we try something and it doesn’t work, they now know we’re smart enough to stop doing it. And try something else.”

As for his team, they have the flexibility it takes to make good ice.

“Our staff may adjust the system as the outside temperature changes, as the day changes or for large events,” he says. “They’re Now staff wants to know how warm can we run this slab and still have good ice and so they make small adjustments. We usually have a day time setting, evening setting and a night time set back. We found by doing this we started to save power.

The goal in the past was simple, try and have good ice, floods that freeze in a short time, so now the goals are changing, how to have good ice as well as how can we save more power.

Freedom

“We are just a single sheet arena and we are fortunate the staff has the freedom to make temperature adjustments and know when they make it of what the result will be,” he tells me. “I imagine that with larger facilities, with multiple ice sheets, combined with a pool or with a larger compliment of staff, this may not be so easy to do. “

Fred’s advice is to get your staff educated.

“Send them to ice making courses and for ice resurfacer training. Let them work with the ice and drive the resurfacers to get experience. Encourage them to talk about ice stuff with older staff. They can be great can be mentors.”

“It is hard for new staff, young staff and part time staff to understand ice cleans and ice temps,” he confides. “Be patient with them, show them the way. And maybe they’ll end up loving the ice as much as you do.”

Don’t know where to start? “Do a flood,” he tells me, laughing. “If it freezes in a nice length of time and no one complains then you’re making good ice, that’swhat you want. That’s as simple as you can get it.”


Fred Kilner, Facility Supervisor
Fuller Lake Arena
District of North Cowichan, BC