East St. Paul family takes backyard rink to the limit

While most Manitobans grumbled over this weekend's first good whack of winter weather, a family from East St. Paul couldn't be happier to see the return of freezing temperatures. But winter isn’t such a bad word when you have the mother of all backdoor rinks.

Backyard skating rink builder embraces winter through annual project

John Crawford and his wife Lori Rudolph-Crawford and the giant skating rink Crawford is building in the backyard of their East St. Paul home. (CBC)

While most Manitobans grumble over this weekend's first good whack of winter weather, a family from East St. Paul couldn't be happier to see the return of freezing temperatures.

But winter isn't such a bad word when you have the mother of all backyard rinks.

"I think our son was the only one looking forward to winter in the whole city," laughs Lori Rudolph-Crawford, whose husband John Crawford is putting the finishing touches on a 12-metre (50-foot) by 21-metre (70-foot) rink in their backyard. 

"When the snow started to come everyone was complaining but he was very happy to hear it because he gets to come out to enjoy his rink," she said.

The rink is a labour of love Crawford has undertaken for the family over the last 12 years.

"It gets me outside and it gets me to enjoy winter," he says.

To build a good rink Crawford starts by packing snow around a tarp he puts out on the ground to create a pool. From there he floods the pool and lets it freeze, repeating the process a few times to level out the surface.

But it hasn't always been smooth skating for Crawford's rink building hobby.

Last year, once the whole rink was flooded and frozen over, he noticed a bump right in the middle. It was a dog toy, frozen under the tarp and layers of ice.

"It was impossible to remove so I had this tennis ball in the middle of my rink until I could get the water over top."

As well as the space, a tarp, freezing temperatures, water, and a keen eye for dog toys, Crawford says a good backyard rink-maker will also need a set of very patient neighbours.

"My neighbours are very good about having pucks in their yard," he laughs. "Every spring there's at least 200 pucks strewn all over the place."

Rudolph-Crawford says having the rink means the family can keep active during the winter months and adds she doesn't even need to step out of the house to enjoy it.

"I'll be in the kitchen looking out and there'll be kids just outside enjoying the rink. We've always opened it up to the neighbourhood kids," she said. "The kids have enjoyed it so much, and half the joy has been in watching them and their friends."

As well as joining his kids for hockey games and runs up and down the ice, Crawford says he and his wife head out for the odd late-night romantic skate around the rink as well, just the two of them.

"The other night I was out here and I could hear the owls off hooting in the distance and I thought when you're inside you just don't hear this stuff. There's a lot of benefits for the kids but there's benefits for the adults too," he said. "And on a day where the sky is beautifully blue and it's bright and sunny, and you're out there, there's no better feeling than just being on the rink and enjoying a nice winter day."

"The key thing about winter is to get out there and enjoy it — enjoy all that winter has to offer."