Upon walking into the Mountain View Ice Arena, patrons are greeted with a whoosh of chilly air and echoes of skates cutting into the ice — and depending on the group on the ice at a particular time, perhaps hockey sticks clamoring to slap a puck.
Whatever the group, ice skating enthusiasts in the Vancouver area — about 2,000 per week — need a smooth rink to skate on because uncut ice is bumpy and difficult to glide over.
On a recent Thursday at the arena, amateur hockey teams in an adult league finished a game. Shortly afterward, employee Brennan Bloemke, 26, hopped on the ice-resurfacing machine to clear the cuts in the ice before a public skate started 15 minutes later.
“It’s hard to explain how to do it,” Bloemke said loudly while standing outside of the gate waiting for the game to finish. “You’re basically just cutting a layer off of the ice and adding a little bit of water. But there’s a lot of give and take with both.”
The ice-resurfacing machine, commonly called a Zamboni, is kept in a garagelike area beside the rink next to a cooling system to keep the ice frozen.
“Depending on how much water you should add to how much ice you should take off, the ‘Zam’ will only carry so much snow,” he said. “You can’t take too much off because half of the ice is going to be cut really nice, then the other half is going to be kind of choppy.”
The word Zamboni, suffering similar issues to Kleenex, is actually a trademarked term exclusive to the California-based Zamboni company.
But the machine at Mountain View Ice Arena is, in fact, an Olympia brand. The 1995 model was bought by the arena when it opened back in 1998. With the word “Oly” stickered on the side, the machine has American-flag-themed flames on the top.
Bloemke can be found atop the Zam up to eight times a shift, between groups and then again at night. The machines are somewhat famous in the hockey and figure skating worlds; like watching a lawn mower cut too-long grass, it can be satisfying watching the ice resurfacer slowly smooth out rough ice in mesmerizing clockwise circles.
“Sometimes it’s nice,” he said, “if it’s a super busy day and there are 400 people in here, it’s a 15-minute break to cut the ice. I’m just chilling by myself doing that, instead of running around trying to make hot dogs for kids. I look forward to it.”
Bloemke has worked at the arena since he was 19, shortly after graduating from Prairie High School. He lives nearby with his wife and 6-month-old son. Sporting a San Jose Sharks ball cap, he is a hockey enthusiast.
“I play on two adult league teams. One of them is called the Wheat Kings, and I play on another team called The Nutcracker. I skate pretty frequently, as much as I can. I usually play forward,” Bloemke said. “I started working here because I was playing hockey with my buddies. It just made sense. The manager just asked if I wanted to work here because I was here all the time anyway.”
Working 40 hours a week, Bloemke is one of eight supervisors who can operate the ice resurfacer. When he’s not doing that, he’s doing customer service at the counter.
“It’s a simple machine,” said Bob Knoerl, owner of Mountain View Ice Arena owner. “You drive around in circles, kind of like NASCAR.”
But the machine, running at a top speed of about 10 mph, it might not fit in at a NASCAR track.
Knoerl, who has owned the business since 2008, bought the building this year. Previously owned by City Bible Church, the rink faced closure until Knoerl stepped up to buy the building for about $4.1 million, according to a 2018 article in the Columbian. Since the sale, the rink has made some improvements, including painting a wall black, installing new boards and lights, and all new ice.
On Knoerl’s wish list: a second ice resurfacer.
“The only thing we got is ice to sell. So if that thing breaks, we have to have another one quickly. They’re both Olympia but two different models. I’ve liked the Olympia better because it’s all General Motors. Zamboni is pretty proprietary. If anything breaks on a Zamboni, you have to call Zamboni and send you the part. Where this here, if you break a transmission, you can just go to ‘Transmissions R Us’ or wherever, and they can fix that,” Knoerl said. “Other than being propane (fueled), it’s all parts you can buy at your local parts store.” (There are electric-powered ice resurfacers or propane fueled. Some propane models have had issues emitting carbon monoxide.)
Back at the rink, the hockey game ended, and Bloemke promptly opened a pair of doors to create an opening in the gate to the garage area. He walked onto the ice, hauled out the goal nets and returned to the ice resurfacer.
He revved up the engine and backed out onto the track. The vehicle slowly moved across the ice like a slug, leaving a shiny trail as it smoothed out skate marks with a blade and released water. Customers started coming in for the open skate and peered through the glass as Bloemke finished. Pulling back into the garage area, he swept up ice shavings that collected near the door.
After finishing, he headed back to the counter, where Knoerl, Bloemke’s boss, stood and watched the skaters.
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One person fell.
“That was a good fall. I haven’t seen too many skates above the board. That was a good one,” Knoerl said.
Knoerl said Bloemke is “an all right kid. Don’t tell him I said that though.”