How to Make A Broomball Court Freeze

By Joe Flaherty

How do you make an ice rink out of nothing but a stretch of grass on a quad? As difficult as it might sound, every February, the Facilities Landscape Services staff makes it happen, albeit with a little improvisation.

With winter weather unpredictable in Vermont, Facilities staff have to be simultaneously flexible and persistent. Things do not always go according to plan. An original attempt to construct the broomball court outside McCullough Hall met warmer weather in the second week of J-term. On Jan. 21, the Landscaping crew was out in sub-zero temperatures to take another approach during week three.

Clinton “Buzz” Snyder, supervisor of Landscape Services, explained how the broomball court is usually constructed in advance of Winter Carnival and how this year is something of a trial run.

“We’re out here trying something different this year,” Snyder said. “Normally what they do is they plow off an area to get all the snow off and the guys will come in at two in the morning. They’ll stand there with an inch and a half hose and just sprinkle it and let if freeze.”

This method is heavy on effort, not to mention the time-comittment in the cold.
John Quelch, a crew chief for Landscape Services, who was surveying the court nearby, said that the old method took several days of spraying water on the court to prepare it for skaters or broomball aficionados.

“[It took] two to three days of doing that, just spritzing it,” Snyder said. “So we are trying something different.”
The team had used a tractor to recreate the snowbanks around the court that had melted the week prior and were preparing to add the water.

“We plowed up some banks, and we’re going to try to flood it with a fire hose,” Snyder said.
A fire hose, hooked up to a hydrant near Old Chapel Road, was pumping water onto the grass that would soon be the ice rink.
The new method was not without its snags.

“We’re running into some difficulties because we knew [the ground] was going to be uneven,” Snyder said. Trying to create an even surface over slush was too difficult.

“We’re going to have to go around and hit it with more water in different areas and let it freeze and come back and pour more water on top,” Synder said. “It takes a while because it is uneven. See the high spot by that lamp? The low spot down here? It may look level to the eye but once water hits it, water tells you everything,” referring to how when the water runs over the slush, it instantly shows where the ground is not flat.

Undismayed, Snyder said the Landscaping team had a plan.

“We’re going to get the tractor over here and do some more banking,” he said.
Quelch would man the tractor, pushing snow out of the center of the court and onto the banks in order to have the fire hose laying down water on grass as opposed to slush. The team had originally just set the fire hose on the ground, but Snyder said that strategy was quickly shelved.

“It went crazy on us, so we’ve got to hold onto it and move it around,” he said.
All this effort, Snyder said, is ultimately for the students and their Winter Carnival enjoyment.

“We’re going to get John to get the snow off, because we really ought to start with just grass. See how we are getting slush on the top? And then that freezes too rough for them to play,” he said. “It’s just broomball, but once in a while people get out there with skates.”