5 Questions with a CA Zamboni Driver
Both extremely functional and entertaining, the Zamboni is one of the most iconic machines around. CA’s ice resurfacer, known as Big Blue or Bubba Blue, is iconic for its own reasons as the first battery-powered Zamboni in the state.
“Without harmful fumes, battery-operated options are much safer for people and the environment,” says Tom Connors, general manager of Columbia Ice Rink. “Other rinks across Maryland have only just begun to adopt this greener option, and we’re so proud to have paved the way.”
Want to learn more about this fascinating five-ton machine? Check out our Q&A with Tom!
First things first: Why is the Zamboni so essential to Columbia Ice Rink’s operations?
Skating on ice causes ruts and holes, so the Zamboni fills those in to create a smooth sheet of ice. Before it was invented by the Zamboni family in 1949, resurfacing the ice was a process that required an entire crew and took more than an hour. Thanks to the Zamboni, it now takes just 10 minutes and one driver.
What kind of TLC does the Zamboni require?
While some arenas only use the Zamboni a few times a week, there are all sorts of activities happening at the Columbia Ice Rink from 6am to 11pm. That means we resurface the ice about 10 times a day, and the Zamboni gets a lot of TLC. In addition to Big Blue, we also have a Zamboni called Big Red.
Every time the Zamboni comes out, our operators do a “circle check.” This means walking around the machine to evaluate it and ensure that its systems (hoses, wires, switches, etc.) are in tact. Some parts of the Zamboni get greased daily, and we also water the batteries. After driving, we always hose the Zamboni down with hot water, because anything that doesn’t melt will harden into ice. We also change our own blades. Considering that the blade is 77 inches long and weighs 57 pounds, it’s a pretty labor-intensive process. It takes about 45 minutes every two to three weeks.
The last part of the process is putting down hot water on the ice. Most people would assume we use cold water, but the hot water freezes faster and makes better ice. At about 160 degrees, it melts the existing ice and forms a nice bond with it, filling in the holes to create a smooth surface.
What is the process like to train new Zamboni drivers?
It’s always fun to introduce our new team members to the Zamboni, but it’s far from easy. After all, it’s a 10,000 lb. machine with blind spots in the front. There are brakes, but once you start, you need to keep the Zamboni moving until you get off the ice. So it’s safe to say that a ton of practice is needed in order to make resurfacing the ice look effortless.
First, we’ll have them take a ride as a passenger. Then, they can practice driving it around like a car in the parking lot – just to get the feel of the wheel. At this point, we still won’t put the blade down or add water. Then we do a dry cut, where we put the blade down to cut the ice without water. It’s an intensive education, and Zamboni recommends about 30 practice runs before a driver goes out on their own.
The secret to success is definitely patience. We only have a 10-minute window to resurface the ice, but you have to let the blade do its work and let the water smooth it all out. Taking your time is how you get the best ice.
What is best part of driving the Zamboni?
Seeing how much people of all ages love the Zamboni. Everyone is fascinated with the Zamboni, and it’s fun to see people clapping and waving. And of course, it’s very rewarding to see everyone enjoy the fresh sheet of ice!