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The ice men cometh

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Crew works hard to prep Evergreen Lake for skating

By Corinne Westeman

Under a stream of glaring light, a rush of water gushed from a long hose. The spray splashed onto a colorless sheet of ice, which aided its molecular brethren in the freezing process. Two men clad in heavy gear and spiky shoes nimbly ran across the lake, moving snow out of the way and pulling the hose in the desired direction.

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One rink took a mere 10 minutes to spray down, but there were several more to go.

Roary Archibald and Chris Kellogg, with the Evergreen Park and Recreation District’s operations crew, were spraying the rinks at Evergreen Lake on Monday night. The two said it was the first night this season they had sprayed all 11 rinks.

Archibald, who has been doing ice maintenance since 2008, and Kellogg, who is in his second season on the ice, said Monday the surface was not ready for skating just yet.

An 11-member crew has been working for several weeks to prep and maintain the nine hockey rinks, the main skating area and the practice rink.

After doing this job for at least eight ice-skating seasons, Archibald has started to pick up on the ice’s behavioral patterns. As of Monday night, the ice was “soft, and there are a couple of dangerous spots,” he said.

“There’s melt on top, which has created these shelves,” he continued. “The shelves then create these open pockets. But it seems to be healing well. … This is very odd behavior. We usually don’t see ice like this until spring.”

Kellogg clarified that the crew members are learning from their experience as well as that of past crew members.

“There’s no handbook for this,” Kellogg said. “I’m learning from guys who learned from guys before them, who taught themselves (how the ice behaves).”

“It’s like I tell the guys,” Archibald added, “ ‘Every day is a new set of rules.’ ”

The two estimated that, before a single person skates on one of the rinks, the crew puts hundreds of hours into the ice; however, that varies from year to year, depending on the weather and the conditions.

“Skating is such a big part of Evergreen,” Archibald said, adding that the lake has been named among the world’s top-10 most beautiful outdoor ice-skating areas by CNN. “It’s an honor to be a part of something that big in the community.”

“I would tell people to be patient and stay off the ice,” Archibald said. “We had probably 30 people out here (on the lake) today. There are some dangerous spots out there. There’s no reason to risk falling in.”

“Hope for cold weather,” Kellogg said.

Archibald and Kellogg said that, during the winter, spraying and grooming the ice are part of their general park maintenance duties.

Archibald said he enjoys teaching new crew members how to groom the ice, and likes to see crew members like Kellogg stay on.

Among their adventures maintaining the rinks, Archibald has heard coyotes howling at night; Kellogg enjoys bringing his kids to the lake so that they can be the first ones on it; and the crew finds an average of 80 to 90 hockey pucks a year, and gives them away to kids.

“The hot days aren’t fun, though,” Kellogg said.

“Yeah, you see all your work destroyed,” Archibald added.

Both men said that despite the cold and potentially long hours, they enjoy maintaining the rinks.

“I love … the seclusion,” Archibald said. “It’s so serene and peaceful.”

“I don’t necessarily like being cold, but without it, we wouldn’t have this,” he said, gesturing at the 11 rinks. “Watching the sun rise from a Zamboni — you don’t find jobs like that … I actually requested to come in tonight.”

For any aspiring ice-maintainers, Kellogg emphasized the importance of proper safety equipment — including spikes, a life vest and cold-weather gear.

“Be safe, be alert, learn what the ice is doing, and have fun,” Kellogg said. “This job — I would say it’s infinitely describable.”