People’s opinion about synthetic can be divided into two groups; those who have no idea what synthetic ice is and those who have very negative attitude towards synthetic ice because it is considered as a product for kids.
Synthetic ice is a solid polymer material designed for skating using normal metal-bladed ice skates. One of the many advantages of synthetic ice is that it does not require expensive refrigeration installations such as real ice does. A refrigeration unit can cost anything from $1.5 million to $2 million and the yearly maintenance cost can run up to $300,000. Synthetic ice comes with 10-year warranty and has a smaller environmental impact that conventional ice.
There are plenty of reasons why people used to prefer conventional ice over of synthetic ice. People thought that synthetic ice could not provide as high glide as conventional ice. Synthetic ice dulled the skate blades after extremely short period of time and the blades had to be sharpened after 30 to 120 minutes of continuous usage. The required use of lubricants to improve the gliding of skates did not help the image and popularity of the products either.
With these problems, synthetic ice had no possibility to expand from family amusement market to the NHL and beyond. The situation started to change with the foundation of Xtraice, premium synthetic ice manufacturer in 2003. Xtraice, a Spanish company, invests heavily in research and development to achieve performance as close to real ice as possible. With the help of Spain Institute of science and University of Seville, Xtraice has developed a synthetic ice that provides 95% gliding rate compared to conventional ice without requiring any special lubricants and all while minimizing the skate sharpening interval to 12 hours of continuous skating.
Improved synthetic ice offers additional advantages over conventional ice. Premium synthetic ice can be used in hot weather outdoors without any problems and the gliding level stays the same after hours and hours of use, while real ice must be re-surfaced after two hours of usage. Because of these reasons it is not surprising that amusement centres prefer to choose synthetic ice over conventional ice. For example Disneyland in Paris changed its rink to synthetic ice. And soon NHL teams followed.
Xtraice became the first (and up to this moment the only) company to sell synthetic ice rink to NHL teams. Florida Panthers use synthetic ice in their training centre, while Detroit Red Wings chose synthetic ice for one of their famous fan events.
Hockey players who have tested synthetic ice acknowledge that it is perfect for training. It offers gliding rate that is close to real ice and cheating using wrong skating technique is not anymore possible with synthetic ice. The puck movement is similar to conventional ice and gives a great opportunity for some extra training, regardless of the weather.
The quality of synthetic ice improves year by year and its ability to substitute real ice improves every year. Despite this it is unlikely that it will substitute real ice in NHL matches and other higher professional leagues. Not because of the lower quality, but because of peoples emotional affection to true ice. Within the next 20 years the developing technologies will most likely allow to create synthetic ice that will be exactly like regular ice. In order to change this synthetic ice does not also have to become superior, but also withstand the resistance of hockey fans and players, and change people’s minds. It won’t be easy, but with positive experience from premium products, the synthetic ice industry can revolutionize skating and ice hockey and help expanding it to new countries and continents.