LOS ANGELES – Turning water into ice is one thing. Keeping ice frozen when the high temps can reach 90 degrees, well, that is another story.
“Mother Nature always wins,” said Tommie Groomes laughing as he pointed a hose on the layer of ice beneath his feet.
Groomes has worked in this industry for decades so he has a few tricks and a lot of technology on his side. He has also learned some important lessons.
“You just can’t stand still,” Groomes says, carefully adjusting his footing, “otherwise your feet will freeze.”
Groomes is not standing on an artificial ice-like substance, it is the real deal.
“It absolutely is real ice and it takes quite a bit to make it real ice,” said Matthew Kessinger, a production manager with Willy Bietak Productions.
The Santa Monica-based company runs the Bai Holiday Ice Rink Pershing Square, which takes roughly two weeks to build. It all starts with a base of 140 aluminum panels. Groomes and overnight crews spend three nights spraying water to build the ice up, layer by layer, on top of those panels.
“That entire floor is plumbed to this machine right here,” Kessinger said. “This is our chiller.”
It is a giant refrigerator of sorts that cools Glycol to about eight degrees Fahrenheit. According to Kessinger, “it goes into the chiller, gets really, really cold and is pumped back out,” constantly circulating through those plates under the rink, keeping everything perfectly cool.
It is all very scientific, but Kessinger says what happens on the ice is pure magic.
“I’ve skated my whole life and it’s still magical going out there and being on the ice outside. It’s really nice,” said Kessinger.
As a former competitive skater, he likes to be the first one to test the ice out. Just don’t expect him to do an inaugural triple sow cow.
“Nooooo! Not anymore. Not anymore,” Kessinger laughed. “My body is done with all that.”
The Bai Holiday Ice Rink Pershing Square has been a winter tradition in Downtown L.A. for more than 20 years. Roughly 50,000 skaters lace up each season, from pros to total beginners, enjoying the ice SoCal style.
“They’ll come out in shorts and t-shirts to the ice rink,” Groomes said. “Little crazy to me but to each his own.”
Once the rink officially opens, Groomes transitions to his other role — driving the smoother between sessions. That may be the part of the job he loves most.
“The kids are all happy and smiling,” Groomes said. “They come to you and their parents tell you to say hi, thank you and that they had a good time. And it’s great. It’s a good feeling.”
A heartwarming moment for a guy who makes ice for a living.