In this northern Alberta county, the Zamboni has gone electric

Like other counties and municipalities across Alberta, the County of Grande Prairie got help to buy an electric ice resurfacer, all in the name of reducing emissions and improving arena air quality.

County of Grande Prairie got funding from Municipal Climate Change Action Centre

An ice resurfacer move son a hockey rink.
The Zamboni Electric at Crosslink County Sportsplex floods the ice without negatively affecting arena air quality. (Luke Ettinger/CBC)

The coolest electric vehicle in the County of Grande Prairie's fleet is ... a Zamboni.

The boxy blue and white ice resurfacer, powered by a lithium-ion battery, is keeping the ice smooth and fast at the Crosslink County Sportsplex in Clairmont, a hamlet just north of Grande Prairie.

"The staff are really enjoying the quieter operation and the zero emissions that are emitted by the new electric Zamboni," said Nora-Lee Gilkyson, the county's assistant manager for parks and recreation.

"Typically with these kinds of things, they're on a replacement cycle. So the other propane model was scheduled to be replaced."

Going electric

The battery-powered ice resurfacer is a new addition this fall for the County of Grande Prairie, which also has an electric John Deere utility vehicle in its fleet.

Across the province, a growing number of municipalities have been flooding their rinks with the Zamboni Electric in a bid to cut emissions and improve  arena air quality.

Since 2019, the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre — a partnership between Alberta Municipalities, Rural Municipalities of Alberta and the provincial government — has allocated $1.25 million to help municipalities acquire new ice resurfacers.

To purchase its electric Zamboni, the County of Grande Prairie got a grant from the climate change action centre that covered 30 per cent of the $153,750 cost.

Other electric vehicle grants have been provided to High Level and Mackenzie County in the north, and to southern communities like Coaldale and Medicine Hat. Once all current projects are completed, 26 battery-powered ice resurfacers will be at rinks in 20 counties, towns and cities.

The City of Leduc, south of Edmonton, purchased a Zamboni Electric with help from the funding program in February 2021.

A blue and white zamboni is parked in an arena garage
A Zamboni Electric arrived at the Crosslink County Sportsplex in Grande Prairie in September. (Luke ettinger/CBC)

Brandon Weber, facilities supervisor at the Leduc Recreation Centre, drives an electric Zamboni there. He said ice resurfacers and his fellow drivers are integral to the arena.

"To be honest with you, they're the unsung heroes for sure," Weber said of his colleagues.

The new addition in Leduc is a "smoother rider," quieter and with less vibration than a regular model, he said.

The city still uses natural gas-powered ice surfacers to help smooth the rec centre ice surfaces for hockey and figure skaters. Weber said the addition of the electric model helps counteract emissions inside the arena.

"I think it's a benefit to not just the people in the arenas but the operators as well," he said.

'For the kids'

Using a zero emission ice resurfacer instead of one powered by fossil fuel improves air quality inside arenas.

"It's a lot healthier for the kids," said Bobby Hooper, a Grande Prairie hockey parent with a decade of experience driving ice resurfacers.

Hooper, who works for the County of Grande Prairie, says the Zamboni Electric is just one way he's seen arenas reduce emissions.

"We did have an electric edger, which made a big difference because our [previous] edger really released a lot of fumes. And if you didn't put the exhaust fans on all night, you would still smell the fumes the next day," he said.

Two ice resurfacers in an arena garage. One is being recharged because it is electric.
The Crosslink County Sportsplex has battery and fuel powered ice resurfacers. (Luke Ettinger/CBC)

Gilkyson said the electric model also benefits staff at the sportsplex in Clairmont.

"They're not having to refuel vehicles. So it makes it safer. You're just plugging it in."

The zero-emission ice resurfacer is plugged in between floods. According to Gilkyson, each trip onto the ice uses about 10 to 15 per cent of the battery life.

A blue zamboni is plugged into charge
The Zamboni Electric owned by the County of Grande Prairie is recharged between ice floods. (Luke Ettinger/CBC)

The recharge time is typically about 1½ times the usage time, she said. 

"They're easily able to recharge before they have to flood again."


Luke Ettinger is a video journalist working for CBC Edmonton in Grande Prairie. Reach him at luke.ettinger@cbc.ca.