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Layer by layer

Behind the wheel of a Zamboni

Jake Kennedy
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Oct 18/02) - Most people would think making ice is simple: Step 1, get some water; Step 2, freeze it.

But for Mike Target, making ice is a time-consuming affair that doesn't end, even after the frozen water is thick enough to skate on.

NNSL Photo

Mike Target lays down a thin layer of ice at the Yellowknife Community Arena. He says a Zamboni, despite its studded tires, will slide on ice just like a car. - Jake Kennedy/NNSL photo

"It looks a lot easier than it is," Target says.

He's one of three Zamboni drivers at the Yellowknife Community Arena.

It's a busy job. Target is constantly hopping behind the wheel, and driving the Zamboni out onto the ice to create a new sheet of ice.

"For recreational hockey, we go over the ice every second period, and for minor hockey at the end of each game," he says.

Target guesses that, on a busy day, he lays a thin layer of new ice at least once every 40 minutes.

"It's a big job keeping the ice in good condition."

Target says having the Zamboni certainly makes the job easier.

"You can put a lot more layers on the ice, a lot faster, using this machine, than if you did it by hand."

But it's not as simple as laying down water and letting it freeze.

Target explains that the Zamboni first shaves off a thin layer of the existing ice, up to a millimetre at a time, then puts down a layer of hot water.

"Hot water's better because it melts down the residue on the old ice before freezing," he says.

Once a week, Target says the Zamboni drivers take up to a quarter-of-an-inch of ice off the surface, and rebuild the top layers of ice.

"It gets pretty chewed up after a week," he says.

In order to keep the ice in good condition, Target says it's also important to keep the Zamboni in top working order.

The current Zamboni needs lots of extra attention, Target says, pointing out that it was built in 1978.

"It's been driven for about 5,400 hours," he says, taking a look at the hour-counter that sits where an odometer would on a regular car.

Target says that in the several years he's been driving the Zamboni, not once has he thought about giving it up.

He says he feels lucky to have the job that a lot of kids dream about when they're young. "Most everybody wants to drive a Zamboni. Not many people get to."