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The world’s top ice makers, known as ice meisters, are in Vancouver to maintain pristine surfaces at venues in Richmond, Vancouver and Whistler, including the Pacific Coliseum, Richmond Olympic Oval, Canada Hockey Place, and the Whistler Sliding Centre. There is no one-size-fits-all model for making and maintaining the ice at each venue, however, as each sport requires its own particular surface. Figure skaters, for example, skate on the softest of all ice in order to help them gain traction for jumps and spins. Speed skaters, on the other hand, skate on hard ice for greater speed.
The thickness and temperature of the ice varies from competition to competition. Sliding track ice can be as thin as 2 centimetres, while figure skaters routinely perform on ice that is 4.5 to 5 centimetres thick. Interestingly, curling ice is not a smooth surface, but a pebbled one with bumps of ice, while the handmade ice on the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton track is shaved smooth by crews before each race. The teams of experts are assisted at each venue by a wireless environmental monitoring system known as Eye on the Ice. The monitors keep track of ice conditions, temperature, humidity, air pressure, etc., and send reports to the ice meisters via e-mail to allow them to manipulate the venue conditions to optimise the ice surfaces.
The ice meisters have done such a good job at the venues that many athletes have publicly lauded their incredible work. “It’s great. The ice is so much better than I expected. It was fast,” said the United States’ Katherine Reutter, the world’s No. 2-ranked 1000 metre short-track speed skater, referring to the ice at the Pacific Coliseum after her first practice session. “The ice felt really fast and thin, which is how speed skaters like it.”