For sheer surreal thrills, you just can't beat ice skating outdoors in California in July.
A Colorado company is out to make that unlikely dream a reality as it markets Super Ice, a hard plastic surface hyped as a low-cost substitute for ice rinks.
Super Ice America of Colorado Springs, Colo., has been marketing its product in the United States since March. Peter Vaka, chief executive officer, said Super Ice has been used in Europe for several years, but has never been marketed aggressively on this side of the Atlantic.
So far, its most-prominent U.S. uses have been for a skating rink that has been operating at New York's Madison Square Garden since 1985 and for the halftime show of Super Bowl XXVI at Minneapolis' Metrodome in 1992, when figure skaters Dorothy Hamill and Brian Boitano performed on a Super Ice surface.
Super Ice is assembled from 21/2by-5-foot sections of high-density polyethylene that are attached to both sides of a thin piece of wood. Each section is slightly more than an inch thick.
The sections are joined using a slip tongue-and-groove system that holds the panels in place.
The product is extruded at Primax in Mesquite, Nev., and assembled by Goldenberg Group in Lynwood, Calif. Primax's Jim Armor declined to give details of the Super Ice production process.
A Super Ice rink built to National Hockey League dimensions of 17,000 square feet can be purchased, delivered and installed for about $400,000, Vaka said. According to Vaka, that is the same amount a standard ice rink would dish out in utility costs in a five-year period.
Vaka said Super Ice has 90 percent of the glide factor of wet ice when maintained with a chemical glide solution the company provides. The surface will groove and shave just like ice, with each side expected to last five years.
But is Super Ice really as good as standard ice rinks? Boyd Sutton, a former player in the East Coast, International and American hockey leagues, thinks it is.
Sutton now works in hockey product development for Kryptonics, a Louisville, Colo., in-line skating firm that is developing an in-line skate wheel for use on Super Ice. At his company's request, Sutton tested Super Ice in early May. He admits he was skeptical because of a low-quality synthetic rink he once played on.
``The Louisville [Ky.] ECHL team was using an artifical surface because they were basically playing in a basketball facility,'' said Sutton, who was drafted by the NHL's Buffalo Sabres and also has played professional roller hockey. ``The surface was really slow. It was like skating on sandpaper. The glide between your slide was interrupted.''
Sutton wondered if Super Ice would have the same problems, but said his doubts were dispelled.
``For turns and stops, it's the same as ice,'' he said. ``It would be a nice alternative for athletic clubs and warm-weather states.''
Vaka said his company is targeting communities with populations of 100,000 or less that might have a demand for a skating surface but that lack the financing to build and operate one.
The Super Ice marketing push is tied to what Vaka calls ``the increased interest in skating nationwide and worldwide.'' Statistics provided by the National Sporting Goods Association seem to back up Vaka's optimism.
The Mount Prospect, Ill., group counted 25.5 million Americans participating in in-line skating last year — a 6.7 percent jump over the 1995 total. For its studies, the NSGA defines a participant as someone above age 7 who took part in an activity more than once in the past year.
Other skating-related totals for 1996 include 8.4 million for figure and ice skating (up 8.5 percent), 3.4 million for roller hockey (up 10.1 percent) and 2.1 million for ice hockey (down 16 percent, after a 10.5 percent increase in 1995 over 1994).
MSGA spokesman Larry Weindruch said the introduction of Super Ice ``makes a lot of sense'' based on those numbers.
``As more and more kids are playing, there will be more of a need for some kind of synthetic surface,'' Weindruch said. ``If it's really low-maintenance, it could save communities a lot of money.''
The company is seeking a corporate sponsor to fund a tour to demonstrate Super Ice to communities across the country.
``If you put the surface down, you can build a better hockey player,'' Vaka said. ``No Zamboni required.''