Watching skaters having fun on the outdoor rinks always brings a smile to Greg Sundsten’s face.
Sundsten, Red Deer’s Parks Amenities foreman, has spent a good portion of the 20 years working at the city ensuring Red Deerians have a safe place to skate during the winter.
On Friday he stood beside the West Park ice surface, one of Red Deer’s original outdoor rinks, as a few families skated around.
“It’s wonderful. It’s by far one of the cheapest things we can provide the citizens of Red Deer with. They get to go outside, get some exercise and enjoy the outdoors,” said Sundsten.
“Putting the rink boards up is the start of the season for a lot of people. They see the rink boards go up and they start phoning us and asking when the ice is going to be ready,” he said.
The rinks officially opened to the public last weekend – a week before the city’s goal.
Sundsten said setting rinks up is much quicker than it used to be.
“I remember setting the (West Park) rink up the old way; we used to put pipes in the ground, stand the board up against the pipes and strap them together. There’s been a lot of evolution for how we do things,” said Sundsten.
A combination of technology and a more efficient system has made the rink setup a quicker process.
“It used to take us all day to set up a rink, but now … it takes two hours. It’s that quick and that cool to watch it come together,” he said.
The city uses tractors with ice resurfacers on the back and water trucks to get the rinks together. Nineteen sites have shelters where a hose can be used to fill water into the rink, but the rest of the sites need to use water trucks.
Rink lighting has been updated significantly over the years as well, he added.
About 24 staff members keep 76 different sheets of ice at 42 different sites up and running throughout the winter – many sites have both a rink with boards and a “shinny” rink for just skating.
“I tell them stories about how it used to be and how lucky they are now,” he said.
One of the toughest parts of getting the rinks together is getting the weather’s help.
“Until we can maintain the surfaces people will be skating on we can’t officially call them open,” he said.
Sundsten said he likes to get on the ice when he gets some free time.
“I do skate, but I don’t know how to skate very well,” he said. “I’ve worked in arenas and around hockey for a lot of my career with the city, but I never was a hockey player or a great skater.”
People around Alberta know Red Deer for its winter facilities, which Sundsten said makes him proud.