So…how do they make the ice tracks for ice cross downhill? As it happened, I was in Boston while the Red Bull Crashed Ice and had the pleasure of meeting Martin Weirather, sales manager, and Peter Hirvell, managing director, of AST.
I first heard of AST only a month ago: they supplied the mobile ice hockey rink for the outdoor hockey game in Cologne, Germany and Häkan Grönlund of H2OVortex – the worldwide distributor of the REALice water treatment technology – answered a call for help to get REALice installed to ensure good ice for the game — and he told me about them. Since Hàkan would be in Boston on business and AST would there as the track supplier, they invited him — and he invited me — to watch the event. The venue? The nearly century old, most famous baseball stadium of all, Fenway Park!
AST Eis- und Solartechnik GmbH (translated: AST Ice and Solar Technologies) is a 30-year old Austrian company specializing in mobile and permanent ice rinks and ski jump tracks – and other products for creating, maintaining and containing ice, including boards. Their mobile solutions range from from skating rinks in city squares to large sporting events like the the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Winter Classic Games — which transformed a rodeo stadium in Saint-Tite, Quebec. I have included a picture of the Saint-Tite arena because it is awesome – please see below.
Most of the events AST supply ice surfaces to are set up on the flat — but the Crashed Ice events for ice cross downhill takes the ice rink to a completely new dimension, with downhills and and corners, uphills, chicanes, steps and jumps — all set on scaffolding high above the ground. The track more closely resembles a water slide or a gunny sack toboggan run than an ice rink. AST’s Skateway System has been used for the ice trakcs since the series began back in 2001.
If you’ve never seen an ice cross downhill competition, it’s a combination of skating, running and downhill skiing — but all on skates. The sport pulls equipment from both skiing and hockey, with the skates and protective equipment coming from hockey but the clothing, some reinforced with kevlar to prevent skate cuts, more closely resembles that of skiers. Each “heat” pits four competitors against each other as they tear down and up and around the course. Some wear hockey helmets, others ski helmets. Since the sport is extremely fast, cameras are set up to broadcast each race to big screens around the stadium. Red Bull broadcasts it to their own TV network (as they do with most of the extreme sports they’re involved with) and the audience is encouraged to download and share their pictures and videos to the Red Bull TV app as the event unfolds throughout the evening.
High and Long
To date, the longest Crashed Ice track was 600 metres – or 656 yards (or over a third of a mile) and the biggest difference in altitude from start to the finish was 50 meters — just under 55 yards.AST is able to accomplish all the elevation changes the tracks throw at the skaters with flexible EDPM tubes that clip to “ice mats” that are laid out, sort of like Lego building blocks. The flexible system allows for the efficient transport of the refrigeration coolant, following the winding track with same efficient thermal transfer over the entire track.
Once the mats have been unrolled and connected to form the circuit, they’re then filled with brine and the refrigeration can begin. The mats are connected to a chiller that cools the refrigerant down to around 14F (-10C) and cycles it through the ice mats in 120 meter segments.
And then the ice making begins. Water is sprayed onto the mats in thin layers and the circuit is built up and made ready for the event.
The EPDM tube mat concept is the basis for many of the ice projects that AST is involved with, used for temporary events like Crashed Ice, and seasonal short term outdoor events like the Ice Dream in Vienna, Austria. All their ice rink solutions are using environmentally-friendly coolants.
PERMANENT SOLUTIONS TOO: Keep Your Slab and Add the Mats
AST also has permanent solutions for indoor ice arenas. In North America, their partner Synerglace has a few permanent rinks under their belt, including arenas in Saint Odilon and East Broughton in Quebec. They’re able to provide lightning-fast turnaround for both new builds and ice slab renovations. The quick deployment means installation costs are typically a third as much as what other permanent rinks costs: the typical onsite installation time for an arena renovation with the EPDM mats is about 3 weeks. And, get this — the old cooling slab can remain in the arena and the new mats can be easily connected to the existing chiller system or a new one. If your arena is seasonal, the ice mats can be dried, rolled up and stored — they’ll easily fit in a 40 ft. container.
Design and Collaboration
Building the Crashed Ice surfaces are quick — but that’s because months of back-and-forths between AST’s design department and the customer. Disassembling the track depends on how fast the ice can be melted – and without the use of any chemicals or paints in the water used to make the ice, disposing of the used ice is easy.