The Capital District’s Bethlehem YMCA Ice Rink provides a welcoming space for public skating, ice hockey, school team competitions, skating instruction and even skating sessions for birthday parties. But the 200-by-85-foot rink requires hard work, a devoted team of employees and a 1999 Zamboni ice cleaning machine to maintain it daily.
Tony Von Ronne, the de-facto head of a staff of six people to uphold it, has served as the building’s rink coordinator since 2012 although he has generally been with this YMCA branch for many years prior. He operates the aforementioned Zamboni, a van-like machine that he said does not require any major upgrades for now despite its age, in 15-minute sessions throughout each day; such a session is meticulously scheduled in between events and activities that happen on the ice rink.
With the Zamboni, Bethlehem YMCA’s Senior Program Director Rusty Decker said, “It’s like a big lawn mower but it’s technically an ice resurfacer.”
According to Zamboni’s website, the machine contains a blade at the bottom that shaves a thin layer from the surface of the ice in the rink and such shavings are collected into an internal snow tank within the machine as it continues traveling and shaving the rest of the rink. Inside it is also a wash-water tank which feeds water to a conditioner near the bottom of the machine which then rinses the rink’s ice. Dirty water that is collected as the Zamboni travels is vacuumed, filtered and stored in the wash-water tank. The Zamboni also contains an ice-making tank which provides hot, clean water — which can be as hot as 120°F — via a pipe that is released and spread evenly onto the rink; this new sheet of water replaces the previous sheet of shaved ice and quickly freezes into ice itself, producing a fresh sheet of ice measuring around 1.25 inches.
Decker said 12,000 to 15,000 gallons of water is generally needed to be laid out throughout the rink. “That’s a crazy big number and people think that ice is really thick but like we said, the ice measures about an inch and a half at most and the rink is so big,” he said.
This fresh sheet of ice serves the next event or group of people who are scheduled to use the ice rink and once they are done, the rink is cleared again and the Zamboni returns to shave a thin layer from its surface again and the process repeats, producing yet another fresh sheet of ice for the next event or group of people.
“Some of the groups may be out there for an hour and 15 minutes, others may be for two hours. But regardless, they’ll always get a fresh new sheet of ice,” said Von Ronne. “On a normal average weekday, we’ll have six ice cuts and we’ll average 10 to 12 ice cuts on a weekend.” Regular ice maintenance, he said, takes around six to eight hours a week.
When asked what happens if the Zamboni does not constantly maintain the ice rink, he said, “The ice may build up and can create a kind of safety issue if it gets real thick or uneven. If you don’t clean the ice, the snow created from people turning and stopping on the rink will build up and make it hard to skate and very, very hard to play hockey. Like, it’s hard to push a puck when there’s a pile of snow.”
Decker chimed in, “If we just let people play, play and play on the rink, they will eventually wear the ice down. But the hot water from the Zamboni refinishes the ice and get the blemishes out.”
The YMCA’s Zamboni drivers receive 40 hours of mandatory training first with the machine, according to Von Ronne. He also said he has trained around 15 to 20 people on the Zamboni so far and that it’s been typically easier to train those who have some experience in ice hockey or skating. “We typically start training late at night or very early in the morning when no one is here so that if they mess up, it’s not a big deal. It takes a while to get somebody trained,” he said, adding that 15-minute sessions take a while to fulfill the required 40 hours of training overall.
Decker sees Von Ronne as a “valuable asset to the team” and he appreciates that he takes great pride in his work. An Aug. 12 Facebook post by the Bethlehem Area YMCA Adult Hockey League complimented Von Ronne’s work which has received numerous likes and comments from local well-wishers, which Von Ronne himself saw and expressed gratitude for.
“I really like what I’m doing and being a Zamboni driver and the rink coordinator,” Von Ronne said. “There have been people I’ve met here even before I was the rink coordinator and to see families’ kids on the hockey team, for example, grow up through the years has been really cool.”
Von Ronne also brought up that even before he was born, his grandfather used to flood a pond somewhere near the Albany County Rail Trail and local residents used to skate on it although he said he himself never got to as it was closed for liability reasons. Saying his family has been in town for seven generations now, Decker added that his Bethlehem YMCA peers feel like an extended family too which he explained why he has declined several jobs at other ice rinks “because it just won’t have the same feel.”
He concluded that it’s not always about the paycheck but “I get paid in smiles for years and years and that’s been so great.”