In an age when concerns over the use of energy and fossil fuels have peaked, an unlikely hero has surfaced at CU; a hero that looms throughout the chilled atmosphere of the university ice rink, aiding the fight against diminishing natural resources.
That hero’s name: Zamboni, the ice resurfacer.
The general tag “ice resurfacer” is commonly and mistakenly replaced with the popular name Zamboni, which is in fact a particular brand name. But another type of ice resurfacer still lurks among the shadows: the Olympia.
“The Olympia used to be our primary machine, and it is propane-fueled,” said CU rink manager Tim Jorgensen. “The students wanted to get away from using fossil fuels, and they were big advocates for having things be electric so that there were no emissions.”
At the time, the Recreation Center decided to purchase the rink’s current Zamboni because it runs on a battery.
So, just as Superman has his kryptonite and Spiderman has Mary Jane, the Olympia’s weakness was exploited.
And now it is time to consider making room for more machines that address the issue of energy.
Because what packs a greater punch than one Zamboni?
Easy: two Zambonis.
“This trend is spreading across the entire United States, as more electric machines are being sold all the time,” Jorgensen said. “So as we phase out the Olympia, so will the other rinks. It is just a process.”
The Rec Center has two ice resurfacers for its one sheet of ice: one Zamboni and one Olympia. However, both machines are configured differently and operate differently, which makes transitioning from each machine difficult. This is another challenge that current employees at the ice rink hope to overcome.
“It is a pretty big challenge for our student employees to be really comfortable on one machine and then have to jump to the other and still make good ice,” Jorgensen said.
As a result, the Rec Center plans to replace the Olympia by purchasing another Zamboni in the future.
“If you are managing right, you are always thinking about replacement. There is no desperate need for another machine right now, and we are not in emergency mode. It is just a process that is in the works,” Jorgensen said.
Plus, a new Zamboni can cost around $100,000, “so it takes more than pocket change,” he added.
As a manager, Jorgensen hires, trains and supervises all the ice rink employees. His staff is unique in that it currently consists of 10 student drivers, while most ice rinks hire full-time workers to resurface the ice.
A competent ice resurfacer has a good sense of driving a big machine, which requires proper awareness of peripheral vision and surrounding space, Jorgensen said.
He added that as a general rule, it also helps to have experience on the ice.
“Hockey players and figure skaters know what the finished product needs to look like,” Jorgensen said.
Enter A.J. Endres, a sophomore English major. Endres began playing roller hockey at the age of 6, and he transitioned to playing ice hockey at age 11. Endres is a student who resurfaces the ice at the rink.
“You have a better sense of how the ice should feel if you are used to skating on it, so it is nice to have that experience,” Endres said. “You really want smooth ice that does not have bumps in it, and you want to make sure you are shaving off enough ice.”
Endres’ job at the Rec Center offered him his first opportunity to drive a Zamboni.
“It is cool to learn the science behind the process and the mechanics behind the machine,” he said. “Everyone I talk to thinks I have the coolest job. All my friends keep asking me for rides, but I don’t want to get fired.”
Yet the authority that comes with driving an ice resurfacer may lead to peculiar temptations. Take an odd case in Boise, Idaho, for instance. Last November, two workers decided to make a midnight fast food run. The temporary employees strolled through a drive-through on two ice-resurfacing machines from a local ice rink. Upon receiving word of these shenanigans, the city promptly fired the employees.
“Fortunately, there have been no major mishaps or anything like that here,” Jorgensen said.
As a driver, Endres said he manages to control any spontaneous urges while driving the large vehicle.
“You don’t really go that fast, and it is not the most thrilling ride you’ll ever be on. But there is some intangible magic to it,” Endres said.
Meg Kennedy comprehends this magic as well. The senior history major began working as a rink supervisor and resurfacer her junior year. She said there is a romantic notion woven into the experience of resurfacing ice.
“People know who I am, and it is cool to have a little bit of fame,” Kennedy said.
But the learning process may take a strong commitment, she said.
“Driving the machine becomes a lot more fun as you gain more confidence. It is really stressful in the beginning because there is a lot of liability.”
And many people who enter the rink have no problem expressing their distaste when the ice is not properly made, she said.
“You can tell when you make bad ice just by people’s reactions when they step on the ice,” Kennedy said. “And when you miss a spot during a hockey game, the whole crowd screams at you. People can make a big deal about little stuff, but you learn from your mistakes and get over it pretty quickly.”
As with any craft, operating an ice resurfacer takes care and intelligence. In this case, the ice-resurfacing machine can be a very intimidating apparatus, and caution is vital.
“We do train and caution students because you can really get hurt,” Jorgensen said. “We want to make sure that this is a safe place to work.”
Additionally, things can go awry at any time. While he has some fears, Enders said that the worst thing to happen to him while resurfacing the ice was a little embarrassing but not all that horrific.
“One time the Zamboni broke down near the middle of the rink during a JV club game. It was not very fun,” Endres said. “We actually had to get the hockey players to help push me off the ice.”
But having to overcome obstacles makes any reward that much sweeter.
“Some students continue trying to improve, and they really take pride in their work. There is definitely an art to ice making,” Jorgensen said.
Contact Campus Press staff writer Corey Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.