Nathan Chen, figure skating; Zach Werenski, hockey; Kaitlyn Lawes, curling

Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images (Chen); Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via AP Images (Werenski); Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images (Lawes)

STANDARDS

CCSS: 6.NS.A.1, MP6, MP7, MP8

TEKS: 6.3A, 6.3E, 7.3A, 7.3B

The Perfect Ice

Meet an ice master that makes the perfect ice for each winter sport

Every detail counts when you’re competing for Olympic gold. Slick ice can create record-breaking conditions, but a bump in the wrong place could dash dreams. That’s where the “ice masters” come in.

Ice masters are the experts in charge of making the ice for sports like hockey and speed skating. The process is more complex than just filling an oval with water and letting it freeze. 

“It’s more of a science than most people think,” says Mark Messer. He’s the ice master who maintains the speed skating oval at the University of Calgary in Canada. If anyone knows ice, it’s Messer. He’s helped create the ice at seven different Winter Olympics and for countless races and hockey games. More than 300 world records have been set on his ice!

Every detail counts when you’re competing in the Winter Olympics. Slick ice can help athletes break records. But a bump in the wrong place could dash their dreams. That’s where the “ice masters” come in.

Ice masters make the ice for sports like hockey and speed skating. The process is more complicated than just letting a rink full of water freeze.

“It’s more of a science than most people think,” says ice master Mark Messer. He maintains the speed skating rink at the University of Calgary in Canada. If anyone knows ice, it’s Messer. He helped create the ice at seven different Winter Olympics. He’s also worked on countless races and hockey games. More than 300 world records have been set on his ice!

Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

A Zamboni machine is used  to smooth ice. Mark Messer supervises as it polishes rink at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The ice-making process starts with an oval-shaped cement floor that is below freezing. Messer and his team spray a thin layer of purified water on the cement. The water freezes into a slick coat of ice. The team is careful to make sure no air or minerals end up in between each layer. Air bubbles make the ice weak and prone to cracks, and minerals make it harder for skaters to glide on.

They keep adding layers until the ice is roughly 1 inch thick. Then some lucky skaters get to test the ice to see how fast it feels. But Messer can tell if the ice is fast just from its look.

Different sports need different conditions, says Messer. Long-distance speed skating uses the coldest and thinnest ice, so racers can glide without friction. Hockey players need slightly warmer and thicker ice, so they can dig their skates into its surface. Figure skating needs even warmer ice, so skaters can land spectacular jumps without slipping. And for curling, a sport where people glide a stone across the ice, little ice pebbles are thrown in the rink between rounds. That creates a thin layer of water on top that helps the curling stone slide. 

No matter what sport he’s working with, Messer loves being around athletes constantly striving to improve. “The energy in the building is so high,” he says.

The ice-making process starts with an oval-shaped cement floor. The floor is cooled below freezing. Messer and his team spray a thin layer of purified water on the cement. The water freezes into a slick coat of ice. The team is careful to make sure no air or minerals get between each layer. Air bubbles make the ice weak and prone to cracks. Minerals make it bumpy and harder for skaters to glide on.

The team keeps adding layers until the ice is roughly 1 inch thick. Then skaters test the ice to see how fast it feels. But Messer can tell if the ice is fast just from its look.

Different sports need different conditions, says Messer. Long-distance speed skating uses the coldest and thinnest ice. This helps racers glide without friction. Hockey players need slightly warmer and thicker ice. This allows them to dig their skates into the surface. Figure skating needs even warmer ice. This keeps the skaters from slipping when they land spectacular jumps. And there’s yet another strategy for curling, a sport where people glide a special stone across the ice. Ice masters throw little ice pebbles into the rink between rounds. That creates a thin layer of water on top that helps the curling stone slide.

Messer loves his job no matter what sport he’s working with. He enjoys being around athletes who are constantly trying to improve. “The energy in the building is so high,” he says.

Use this information to find out how many layers of ice Messer makes for each sport. Write all answers in simplest form. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

Use this information to find out how many layers of ice Messer makes for each sport. Write all answers in simplest form. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

The thickest ice used by figure skaters is 2 inches thick. Each layer is roughly 1/10 of an inch thick. How many layers would be needed to make figure skating ice?

The thickest ice used by figure skaters is 2 inches thick. Each layer is roughly 1/10 of an inch thick. How many layers would be needed to make figure skating ice?

For hockey, Messer makes ice that’s 1 and 1/4 inch thick. Each individual layer is 5/64 of an inch thick. How many layers does Messer make for hockey ice?

For hockey, Messer makes ice that’s 1 and 1/4 inch thick. Each individual layer is 5/64 of an inch thick. How many layers does Messer make for hockey ice?

A. Long-distance speed skating ice is 1 inch thick. Each layer is 1/16 of an inch thick. How many layers are there in speed-skating ice?

A. Long-distance speed skating ice is 1 inch thick. Each layer is 1/16 of an inch thick. How many layers are there in speed-skating ice?

B. After making the first 1/4 inch of speed-skating ice, Messer and his team stop to paint the ice with white water-based paint. That’s why rinks always look so snowy! How many layers of ice are underneath the paint?

B. After making the first 1/4 inch of speed-skating ice, Messer and his team stop to paint the ice with white water-based paint. That’s why rinks always look so snowy! How many layers of ice are underneath the paint?

Curling ice is roughly 1 and 3/16 inches thick, and each layer is roughly 19/192 inch think. How many layers are needed to make curling ice?

Curling ice is roughly 1 and 3/16 inches thick, and each layer is roughly 19/192 inch think. How many layers are needed to make curling ice?

A Zamboni is used to maintain the ice’s smooth surface. The Zamboni scrapes a top layer of ice off the surface and leaves behind warm water that freezes into a new layer. If a Zamboni does this 6 times and replaces 1 and 1/2 inches of ice in total, how thick was each scraped-off layer?

A Zamboni is used to maintain the ice’s smooth surface. The Zamboni scrapes a top layer of ice off the surface and leaves behind warm water that freezes into a new layer. If a Zamboni does this 6 times and replaces 1 and 1/2 inches of ice in total, how thick was each scraped-off layer?

Back to top
videos (1)
Skills Sheets (4)
Skills Sheets (4)
Skills Sheets (4)
Skills Sheets (4)
Lesson Plan (2)
Lesson Plan (2)