What is an Ice Resurfacer?

J.M. Densing

An ice resurfacer is a tractor-like vehicle that repairs and restores the surface of the ice in a skating rink. It is often referred to as a "Zamboni" which is a manufacturer's name rather than the proper term for the machine. The ice surface is easily damaged, particularly by figure skating and ice hockey, and after being in use for a while it becomes rough and chipped. An ice resurfacer restores the smooth surface by scraping and washing away imperfections and then putting down a new layer of water to fill any remaining low areas and that freezes into fresh ice.

An ice resurfacer.
An ice resurfacer.

Developed in the 1940s by Frank Zamboni, the first ice resurfacer available for purchase was called the "Zamboni, Model A" and went on sale in 1950. A few manufacturers currently build the machines; many people still refer to it generically, however, as a Zamboni due to the history and dominance of the Zamboni Company. An ice resurfacer resembles a tractor in appearance, but it is actually a specialized machine that cleans and repairs the surface of an ice rink.

An ice resurfacer is generally used before the game and between periods during a hockey game.
An ice resurfacer is generally used before the game and between periods during a hockey game.

Ice rinks are subjected to a lot of wear and tear, and the ice resurfacer is extremely important. Ice hockey and figure skating are especially hard on the surface, leaving behind grooves, pits, chips, and other irregularities. Maintaining the surface of the ice keeps it safer for individuals who participate in these activities. Once the ice is resurfaced and smooth again, it is much easier to skate on.

Ice resurfacers smooth the surface of ice used by figure skaters and others.
Ice resurfacers smooth the surface of ice used by figure skaters and others.

As a fairly complex machine, an ice resurfacer is actually able to perform several functions together; most of the work is done by a device called a conditioner. As it moves over the ice, the first thing the machine does is to shave or scrape away a layer of the ice with a very large blade. The ice shavings are then gathered and fed into the center of the conditioner by one auger, then picked up by a second one. The conditioner then washes the surface of the ice by spraying it with water to remove debris, then squeegees and vacuums the water back up for reuse.

Figure skating is especially hard on the surface of an ice rink.
Figure skating is especially hard on the surface of an ice rink.

Once the ice is cleaned, the ice resurfacer repairs and restores the surface. This is done by spraying the ice with water, which fills in the low spots on the surface and freezes to form a fresh new layer. The water is filtered and cleaned to remove any impurities. Many models use hot water because it melts the surface roughness before refreezing to create a flat, glassy, smooth top layer of ice.

Skates tend to damage ice rinks.
Skates tend to damage ice rinks.

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Discussion Comments


@alisha-- I know about that too. The new green ice resurfacers use electricity instead of propane which is what traditional ice resurfacers use. It definitely is better for the environment, but it's also much more expensive than a Zamboni. And I think it was also said that the green ice resurfacers have some technical issues that have to be dealt with. So I don't think that they are going to replace Zambonis yet.

My university has an ice rink and the university owns both a Zamboni and a small electricity run resurfacer. They use the small one to perfect the corners and hard to reach parts of the rink. But they haven't replaced the big Zamboni with a green resurfacer.

When I was in middle school, I remember our neighbor had a backyard ice rink that they made by letting water freeze over in winter. They even had a miniature ice resurfacer that they attached to their ATV grass mower. It would scrape off the top part of the ice and then they would pour more water on top for a fresh new layer.


I know that Zamboni had been ruling the ice resurfacer market for a long time. But I read recently in the paper that the ice rinks used for the Olympics will now be using ice resurfacing machines that run on electricity and that are better for the environment. If these new resurfacers have been preferred for the Olympics games, I think it won't be long until most Zamboni resurfacers are replaced with the green alternative.

I think this is a great change, we need to prefer equipment that is less damaging to our environment. It's unfortunate that Zamboni didn't think of a more environment friendly ice resurfacer before its competitors though.


I went ice skating last week for the first time. It was a lot of fun even though I fell many times. After about an hour of skating, they asked everyone to leave the ice rink because it would be resurfaced. It was kind of annoying to have to get off the ice because we had were having so much fun.

Then we saw the ice rink resurfacer come onto the ice. It really looked like a tractor but the bottom part was very different. It went in circles covering all areas of the ice a couple of times. The resurfacer left the ice in about seven minutes and we waited a couple of more minutes for the ice to be completely frozen until we were allowed back on the ice.

When we went back on, the difference was amazing! The ice was flawless and so smooth! I realized then that I was having a hard time skating on the old ice because of all the pits and chips. It was so much easier to skate on a freshly resurfaced ice and I didn't fall as much the second time around.

An ice resurfacer is really a very cool equipment. Ice skating would be difficult and at some point impossible without it. Imagine if they had to melt and re-freeze the entire rink of ice to make the surface flat and smooth again!

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