Christian Klueg has built backyard ice rinks large and small since he first started the hobby 27 years ago when he was 12.
Building a rink every winter at the home his family moved into a couple of years ago brought with it a new problem — there just wasn’t enough water in the house’s well to supply the 30,000 to 50,000 gallons of water required to create the frozen sheet of ice and have enough water for some regular household tasks.
“It was always kind of a bad thing,” Klueg said in a phone interview Wednesday, “when the wife can’t take a shower or do laundry.”
This summer, Klueg remedied that situation. He dug a secondary well of his own, taking advantage of a spot with a low water table on the property and ensuring a dedicated water source for his rink while assuring everyone in the house had enough water to avoid disrupting the family’s daily routines.
This winter’s backyard rink is the latest evolution of Klueg’s lifelong passion. He’s built rinks without boards or a rink liner, he’s built them on a frozen lake or on solid ground, all of various sizes.
But this year, there are a few new tweaks that add a bit of pizzazz.
Instead of the do-it-yourself wooden boards he’s often used to surround the rink, now there’s a full set of regulation boards that were once used at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
Oh, and he’s got his own ice resurfacing machine.
Klueg bought the used 1987 Olympia — similar to a Zamboni — from a school district, adding to his arsenal of ice-cleaning equipment alongside shovels, snowblowers, scrapers and a tractor to both deal with the pressing issue of snow removal and keep the sheet of ice as smooth as possible.
Though he’s a lifelong hockey player, Klueg had never driven one of the massive ice-cleaning vehicles before the purchase.
“I had to do a quick crash course on YouTube,” he said. “I had a lot of guys online who gave me some pointers on how to maintain it, how to keep it from freezing. There’s a great online community of backyard rink owners, and everyone helps each other out.”
And the site of looking out each morning at that smooth, shimmering ice surface?
“I say it’s like the sexiest thing I ever see,” Klueg said. “When I look out in my backyard and it’s just glass smooth. It just makes you want to throw your skates on and go out for a rip in the morning.”
Patrick Lynch, a friend of Klueg’s, remembers skating on the rink in Ogdensburg that was once home to Klueg’s Zamboni, and marveled at his buddy’s setup.
“I wish I could do that,” Lynch said. “Bottom line. I think that’s amazing. I told him that, ‘Man, this is awesome.’ … I tell him, ‘You’re living the dream now.'”
Acquiring the secondhand boards was another story.
For the last couple years, Klueg had used homemade wooden boards about two feet tall for his setup, constructed with wood purchased from a local lumber company.
This year, however, through a “friend of a friend” Klueg was able to locate a set of professional boards that had been lying in a barn for two decades.
“He didn’t really even know where they came from,” Klueg said.
The ads plastered over the boards — for Price Chopper, Bud Ice, Mountain Dew, Glens Falls National Bank and The Daily Gazette — led Klueg to the conclusion that the boards had surrounded the rink at the Glens Falls Civic Center — now Cool Insuring Arena — during the Adirondack Red Wings’ tenure at the arena in the 1990s.
Figuring out where they came from was the simple task. Assembling them without any instructions, that was a fair bit harder.
“It was in shambles. It was in pieces,” Klueg said. “We had to put together what was like a massive jigsaw puzzle.
“Next year will be a little easier, because we’ll label everything and we’ll be able to piece it back together.”
The new boards added a little extra work to what’s become a fairly refined and quick process of rink assembly. Each year, right around Thanksgiving, Klueg puts a new liner down, fills it with water and gets everything constructed.
The work is usually done in the space of a single Saturday, he said, though not on his own.
“I put out the word to all of my buddies and my family, and they all show up and help,” he said. “If it was just me doing it, it would be impossible. I really couldn’t do it myself. It’s really a group effort of a bunch of friends who come help me out — and then, of course, they skate there as well.”
After that, it’s just a matter of maintenance throughout the season. Adding the Zamboni has helped that quite a bit this winter, but it doesn’t solve the single biggest problem for an outdoor rink — snow removal.
Snow, slush and freezing rain are all major pains to deal with, because every bit needs to be removed. It’s “one of your biggest time-suckers, all winter long.”
December’s massive snowstorm was a major challenge. When the storm hit, only the top 4 inches of water on the rink had frozen, leaving four inches of water on the ice. The snow forced that water to the surface, creating a mass of unwieldy slush that required six hours of snowblowing to deal with.
“I had to call in some reinforcements and get some help,” Klueg said, “because getting that snow off was critical. You’ve got to get that snow off, and if you don’t, you’re kind of screwed.”
All the work, he said, is worth it. The rink gets used pretty much every day throughout the winter, with plenty of pickup hockey games with friends scheduled throughout the season when weather permits.
Phil Singer, of Amsterdam, is a frequent guest on the rink who helped setting up the new boards this winter. Singer grew up in Northville, about 10 years older than Klueg, and the two met while skating on a rink that was set up each winter behind Northville High School.
“There was a guy named Homer who used to put a rink behind the school. That’s where I met Christian, playing hockey back in the day when he was little and I was in my late teens,” Singer said. “He came back to the area after being at college, and I used to skate circles around him when he was a little kid. He came back and started skating circles around me.”
Singer’s seen the evolution of Klueg’s backyard projects over the years, and now brings his son to play on the rink that Singer compared to the baseball field in “Field of Dreams.”
“If you build it,” Singer said, “they will come.”
But, the most use comes from Klueg and his family.
It brings a smile to Klueg’s face when he checks his backyard camera while at work and sees his sons, Torrin, Zeke and Tate pulling their skates on and getting on the ice.
But the best, he said, is when the whole family joins in on the fun.
“The best thing for me is when I get to come home after work and spend a couple hours on the rink with the boys, just passing the puck around,” Klueg said. “My wife will come out and skate with us, too. That’s just awesome. We love having people over, but we also love using it ourselves.”