The Slovenia Times

Ice rinks made to stand the test of climate change

A synthetic ice skating rink made by Fida Sports in Jesenice. Photo: Tinkara Zupan/STA
It has been years since Lake Bled was frozen solid enough to let the locals and visitors enjoy the pleasures of skating. But this winter, which was particularly warm, children and adults had the chance to try out one of the eco-friendly synthetic ice rinks developed and manufactured in Slovenia.

As a global invention modern synthetic ice rinks did not emerge until the 21st century. First experiments date back to the 1970s, but the science and industry had not yet managed to develop synthetic materials suitable for year-round skating using normal metal-bladed ice skates.

Even today, there are only about five manufacturers globally that successfully manufacture synthetic ice, one of them in Slovenia.

Fida Sports, a sport equipment maker based in the northern town of Prevalje, has been manufacturing synthetic ice skating rinks together with its partners for 15 years. Sales have been up in recent years, one reason being climate change.

Emerging market

The company owner, Matjaž Stopar, says the production of such ice rinks is very demanding. It requires large, expensive machines, and it does not pay to manufacture just synthetic ice. This is why they teamed up with a Slovenian plastics manufacturing plant that produces panels for Fida Sports.

Despite the initial enthusiasm, the market has been developing slowly. This is particularly true in Slovenia, which is why most FidaIce-branded rinks are located abroad.

"At first, sales were very slow, we'd sold maybe one rink a year in Slovenia and two or three abroad, mainly in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia and Croatia," Stopar says. There are more than 10,000 square metres of FidaIce skating surfaces all over Europe.

Synthetic ice rinks may be too expensive for private investors, but Stopar says they are interesting for municipalities and sports institutions.

Despite being enthusiastic about the innovation, municipalities are reluctant to buy though, unsure how synthetic ice will go down, so they would often first rent the rink to try it out and buy it the next year.

Pricey but sustainable

The price depends on the size and thickness of the panels. For a public rink, at least 200 square metres is required. Such a rink, including the fence, as well as accessories, equipment and installation, costs somewhere between €60,000 and €70,000, according to Stopar.

Fida Sports' synthetic ice rinks did not really start taking off until two or three years ago. Stopar attributes the success to a combination of factors, from the company becoming more experienced and gaining trust, to rising energy prices and global warming, which means tougher conditions for conventional ice rinks.

A synthetic ice rink helps protect the environment. It saves about 15,000 litres of water as well as the electricity needed to keep the temperature low enough for conventional ice rinks. Monthly, it saves saves as much electricity as 290 average households consume per month.

Fida Sports hit big the past winter season when it sold five skating rinks in Slovenia. The Gorje tourist association, which manages the Vintgar Gorge near Bled, bought three of them as a way to share part of the entrance fee revenue with the local communities. They had them installed in Bled, Gorje and Jesenice.

Not yet popular in summer

The rinks are only in use during the winter season, when people are used to skating, even though they could be open all year round, being independent of weather conditions or temperatures. "We had our ice rinks in the middle of August in Koper and in a shopping centre in Maribor," Stopar says.

However, skating rinks as a standalone attraction are not popular outside the winter season, but he believes they would be if they featured an accompanying programme and hospitality services, or as part of larger events or festivals in town.

Recreational summer artificial ice skating has not gained popularity abroad either. However, National Hockey League teams in North America use such rinks year around for training. There is about 10% greater friction between the skate and synthetic ice, which means athletes expend more energy when training and can be even faster on the ice.

Apart from synthetic ice being slightly less slippery than natural or artificial ice, there is no other difference in skating. There are the same skates, pucks, hockey sticks and other equipment. The slower skating surface reduces the risk of falling, which makes such rinks particularly suitable for learners.


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