Rediscover the spirit of winter in a game of pond hockey.

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The advent of indoor rinks has all but melted the mystique of man (or woman) gliding upon steel runners. Coasting across a sheet cured by Mother Nature, however, is a thrill impossible to replicate on refrigerated concrete.

The first hard freeze of the season can provide optimum conditions for a natural rink. Keep an eye on the forecast for a handful of days that dawdle in the single digits. Blistering cold on windless, snow-free nights can solidify a lake surface into an ethereal sheet of glass. Seek out small bodies of water such as Ellis Lake and Lake Dubonnet, near Interlochen, which are relatively shallow and will be among the first to freeze over. Both lakes also boast public access sites. Be prudent when venturing out onto first ice by toting a heavy metal spud to chop a hole. Anything less than four inches of solid ice should put a delay on play.

[Ice safety tips]

When snow does fall, use a light plastic shovel for pushing the powder and a hefty metal (or metal edged) one to scrape and even out the surface.

Make a rink as large as solid ice and arm strength will allow. Without boards, scheduled skate times, admission fees or rentals, a pond rink becomes something of your own. Round up your players, pick teams and go. Everyone agrees to keep the puck on the ice (no lifting slap shots here), pass often, and of course, score on opponents. Goals can be a true hockey net or anything available—from a metal trash can to a simple traffic cone (rubber is recommended as plastic will crack). Play half-ice with a take-back line marked by a shovel in the bank, or scratch up the whole sheet. The good ol’ hockey game is also a great environment for newbie skaters. The stick offers a tri-pod effect allowing better balance, and uncluttered ice provides unfettered practice.

Unlike full-bore, into-the-boards hockey, pond is also light on the equipment needs. One of your puck-loving pals probably has an extra twig and skates that could fit with a thick pair of wool socks. To purchase a pair, peruse Play It Again Sports for used skates and hand-me-down hockey sticks.

Outdoor Ice rinks in Traverse City

For those seeking a groomed outdoor rink, Traverse City offers three:

  • 14th Street (behind Thirlby Field)
  • F&M Park
  • Rose Street

All locations are maintained by the city, and charge no admission, and the 14th Street and F&M locations have warming huts. Ice conditions and warming station hours can be found online.


Get official with a good goal. Check out the pond hockey goal from Nice Rink. Though it costs $110, the goal is constructed of metal pipe, has two pocket goals with netting, and will outlast a score of orange cones.

Andrew Vandrie writes from Traverse City.

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Photo(s) by Andrew Vandrie