How a Basketball Court Becomes an Ice Rink (for a Night)
By Jennifer Willis
GCU Arena will be filled with the sights and sounds of the holidays on Saturday night as Pandora’s Unforgettable Holiday Moments on Ice brings a unique kind of show to campus.
Well-known figure skaters such as Kristi Yamaguchi and Brian Boitano and many other skating champions will be center stage, gliding across the ice to the music of Mannheim Steamroller and former “American Idol” performer David Archuleta.
The big question: How can an arena with a permanent basketball court become an ice rink for skaters to perform those triple lutzes and double axels?
The answer: careful planning and preparation, as well as some really cool equipment.
Jennifer Irish, the Arena’s director of events, doesn’t even want to think about the number of man hours that have gone into this event.
“We first started talking with Disson Skating, the company behind the show, back in February,” Irish said. “We did a walk-through of the Arena with them in June. The Arena wasn’t even completed yet.”
That didn’t stop those involved from showing Disson that GCU was the perfect place to hold the show. The green light was given and logistics planning began.
There couldn’t be a better team behind the scenes. Both Irish and Operations Manager Dino Trejo came to GCU from US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix. They have plenty of experience at this, dating back to when the Phoenix Coyotes played downtown.
“We’ve never done a portable freezer system with a permanent court before, though,” Irish said. “At US Airways, we had a removable court and a permanent system. This will be a slightly new experience for us.”
The process begins first with protecting the basketball court. After the men’s game Tuesday night, seven sections of vinyl covering, measuring 15 by 100 feet each, were laid down over the court and the seams taped to make it waterproof. Foam board was then placed over the vinyl to protect the court from impact.
Once the court is protected, the transformation begins.
“Think of your freezer at home,” Trejo said. “It has those freezer coils that help with the cooling process. This is similar, only on a much larger scale.”
The floor is lined with tubes to act like those freezer coils. They are connected to a giant portable freezer sitting in the Arena’s loading dock. Using a fire hose, water is pumped in and sprayed over the tubes for the first layer. Once that layer is frozen, the ice is scraped down to smooth it out and then another layer is applied.
The process is repeated until the ice is two inches thick, taking two or three days.
“In between one of the layers, they will put a mesh inlay down,” Irish said. “Then they will continue with the layers of ice, so that when it’s done there will be a giant logo in the center of the ice.”
Once the ice has reached the appropriate thickness, hot water is used to go over the surface and give it that glossy look.
“We use cold water to make the ice but hot water to resurface,” Trejo said. “In between numbers, a mini-Zamboni will be pushed over the ice with hot water to smooth the ice and seal it all back up from any imperfections made from the skates.”
The ice is only half of the show, though.
“This is more unique than a normal show because there are a lot of different components to it,” Irish said. “There is the ice part, but it’s also a concert and it’s being filmed for television. After the ice, we have to set up lighting and then the stage for a 30-piece orchestra. The tubes will have to run under the stage to get out to the loading dock. It’s like a giant puzzle trying to figure out which piece needs to go where.”
TV’s presence creates other challenges.
“Normally, we have four giant spotlights,” Trejo said. “For this show, they are bringing in an additional 14. It’s been a big ordeal to make sure that we can get power to all 18 of them. We had to climb up into the rafters and install auxiliary power to accommodate.”
When the show finally takes place and is telecast a few weeks later, all the hard work will have been worth it.
“It will be great exposure for the school,” Irish said.
Those coming to the show are advised to bring a jacket.
“We’ve dropped the (Arena) temperature from the normal 74 degrees to 68,” Irish said. “It’s going to be chilly in here.”
The show is scheduled to air on NBC on Sunday, Nov. 27, from 4 to 6 p.m. EST.
Reach Jennifer Willis at 639.7383 or Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org.