New England

Backyard Hockey, Anyone? Outdoor Ice Rinks Offer New Way to Play Amid Pandemic

More and more people and organizations in New England seem to be installing rinks in their backyards or in public places

NBC Universal, Inc.

Maybe you’ve seen them on your social media feeds or in your travels: backyard ice rinks that seem to be popping up more and more as a way for families and friends to get outside during the pandemic.

“In previous years, we probably had a handful of friends that had backyard rinks, but this year, we’ve seen so many more,” observed Sara Desilets of Essex, Vermont.

Desilets said her family members are just loving their new backyard rink, built as something of an at-home escape from the doldrums of COVID-19.

With the pandemic delaying or limiting normal team practices, the family’s 64x30-foot rink is giving kids Abby and Zach a place to sharpen their hockey skills.

“Definitely my shooting,” high school student Zach Desilets said of what he enjoys working on in the rink.

The governors of all six New England states, in addition to New Jersey, jointly announced Thursday interstate youth hockey competitions would be suspended as the region grapples with rising coronavirus cases.

“It’s fun to have friends over — obviously, six feet apart and with masks,” added Abby Desilets, a middle schooler. “But it’s fun to be able to skate around whenever we want.”

In addition to private rinks, public ice has been popping up in a lot of spots lately, too.

“It’s Vermont — we need to get outside,” said Patrick Burke, the principal of South Burlington High School.

Behind SBHS, the facilities and operations team built a rink Burke sees as offering a place for PE, or just to enjoy some unstructured play time.

“Especially during COVID, we could use as much of that as possible,” Burke told NECN and NBC10 Boston.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott called the students' work an "inspiration to people everywhere."

In Burlington, five city parks as well as a natural area are now open to skating. The Burlington Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront Department said it wants to encourage folks to enjoy the fresh air.

Experts say the virus doesn’t spread as easily outdoors, especially when people also maintain a physical distance and wear masks.

“We have had many people say to us that the outdoors have really saved them during the pandemic,” said Cindi Wight, the department's director. “It’s just given them a place to be that’s different. It helps you mentally, it helps you physically. It allows a little more social time.”

Burlington updates the conditions of its winter amenities at this website:

People who have installed skating areas told NECN and NBC10 Boston the features can range from pretty cheap to a few hundred dollars to several thousand, based on how many features you want and how particular you are about the surface.

“I am enjoying it,” Sara Desilets said, adding that she is finding the rise of rinks is an antidote to that cooped-up feeling so many of us have had during the coronavirus crisis. “It gives me a little peace in the house when they’re out here skating, so that’s nice!”

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