Case studies

Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland

The Site: Gorsedd Gardens,
Cardiff City Centre

Situated directly in front of City Hall in Cardiff, Gorsedd Gardens is a busy green space which features, in one area of its well-kept environs, a stone circle constructed for the 1899 National Eisteddfod. Pedestrian traffic in the area is high, owing to the site’s proximity to a host of nearby institutions and over the years it has become a well-used area for civic events such as The Cardiff Big Weekend, which returns in 2017 in the hands of Pride Cymru. For the last fifteen years, the site has also hosted Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland, without doubt the capital’s favorite festive celebration.

Winter Wonderland is Cardiff’s premier seasonal attraction. Running for eight weeks across the festive season, Wonderland boasts an extensive fairground with big wheel, rides, stalls and an authentic alpine village complete with Bier Keller, Gluhwein and hotdogs. For the last fifteen years, an ice rink has been central to drawing huge crowds to the site but owing to the increasingly unpredictable nature of the UK’s winter weather, Cardiff Council and operator Sayers Amusements, took the decision to install a covered rink for 2016/7.

The footfall associated with the ice-rink at Winter Wonderland is an established benefit to the economy of the city centre during this important trading period, something that other towns and cities in the UK are increasingly taking note of. Cardiff-based 11th Hour Events was engaged to install, maintain and manage every aspect of a covered ice rink that would remain in place from November 10th to January 3rd. As well as dealing with every aspect of the rink, 11th Hour also supplied power, distribution and site lighting for the whole event.

The Installation:
At Winter Wonderland, 11th Hour supplied and installed an ice rink 40m x 20m. The rink was sponsored by car insurance giants Admiral and work began on October 24th with the construction of a deck system to support the rink. Once everything was in place the rink itself took two days to construct and a further four days were required to achieve the necessary thickness of ice. The whole project, including the installation of 3,500km of festoon over the rink, the decorative lighting, theming and set up of skate-exchange took 18 days. The accessibility of the site meant that all equipment was transported by HGV and a team of fourteen staff were responsible for the construction and dismantling of the installation. Forty eight staff were on duty at the Winter Wonderland rink during operating hours and welcomed more than 60,000 skaters, including TV weather girl, Laura Tobin, who took part in ITV’s UK Tour of outdoor ice rinks and proclaimed Cardiff the best of all.

Each different installation presents unique challenges and 11th Hour has the flexibility and capacity to meet every demand. Every location is carefully assessed in order to achieve the greatest efficiency during set-up. Having taken a little over over two weeks to install, the Cardiff rink was removed in under ten days. Norman Sayers of Sayers Amusements was pleased with the success of the rink: “It was great to see live national television broadcasting from the Admiral Ice rink at Winter Wonderland. They were certainly impressed with our set up, especially the fact that the rink is of skaters taking to the ice this year.”

John Davies, Director at 11th Hour offers this view: “People love ice-skating! From the smaller, community centred rinks to the large high-end installations, we see a real appetite for the benefits that ice rinks can bring. There are certainly different demographics at play in contrasting locations but the common denominator of having fun is inescapable and the figures don’t lie. The fact that we’re able to provide any scale of provision, with as few or as many ancillary services as necessary, means that an ice rink, large or small, is a viable proposition as a stand-alone facility or as part of an integrated event. We have a flexible, highly experienced team at 11th Hour who will deliver without fail.”

Rinks require a firm, even and stable grounding and deck systems are often put to use to achieve this. The use of a highly efficient mat system of 300mm wide ice ribbons is key to every install, large or small. The system creates ice quickly using a non-toxic, bio-degradable refrigerant with high heat-transfer efficiency, comprising a 40/60 blend of food-grade glycol antifreeze and water. To form the ice quickly, the chillers are set to -12C but once established, particularly in the controlled conditions offered by a covered rink, the rink surface can be maintained at around -2C – 0C, significantly reducing environmental impact and promoting energy cost savings. Where ice rinks are open to the elements, energy costs may be higher as a result of chillers working harder to counteract the effects of higher ambient temperatures.

Ice is checked regularly during the operation of the rink and its surface is maintained either by machine or, in the case of small rinks, by hand. The process by either method involves scraping away the surface, dispensing with the ‘snow’ created by the process and spraying water to reinstate a smooth, slippery finish. This takes place as required, typically between sessions. Where possible, particularly at larger installations, the ‘waste snow’ removed by a machine, known as a Zamboni, is placed into a heated tank where it is melted and re-used for the surfacing process.

Covered ice-rinks offer the certainty of skating in all weathers. 11th Hour uses clearspan marquee structures that offer an outdoor feel whilst protecting skaters from the elements. The covering structures are rated to withstand 80mph winds and only at this point would a rink be closed. To date, no 11th Hour rink has been closed due to inclement weather, something that cannot be said of uncovered outdoor rinks in the UK’s increasingly erratic winters. This reliability ensures that skaters are happy, revenue streams are unaffected and environmental impact is reduced by the capacity to maintain the surface in the most efficient way possible.