What is it about Zambonis? We Meet a Zamboni Driver

The best strategy for dealing with Chicago winters, some say, is to embrace it and get outside for some winter fun, like ice skating.

Last winter, Jay Shefsky laced up his skates and hit the ice ribbon at Maggie Daley Park, where he met the Zamboni driver. We revisit his time on the ice.

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors


Jay Shefsky: But just because it's extra chilly, that doesn't mean the crew that takes care of the unusual skating rink will get the day off.

Like any ice rink, the ice ribbon benefits from a good Zamboni-ing a few times a day. To resurface the ice, a Zamboni sweeps it, shaves it, and leaves behind a thin layer of water to freeze as smooth ice.

Kevin Kane has been a Zamboni driver for 16 years.

I'm not really an ice skater, but like everybody else, I'm fascinated with Zambonis. What is it about Zambonis?

Kevin Kane, Zamboni driver: I myself would still like to know what the fascination with Zambonis is because all they do is go round and round. And they go right hand turns only most of the time. At least this one I get to turn around with, and go the opposite way along both sides of the boards.

JS: My theory? First I think the name Zamboni is fun to say.

And second, Zambonis usually have an audience. We filmed Kevin early in the morning before the rink had opened. But most of the time, people are watching, like during a hockey game or a break at an ice rink.

But when you’re making skaters wait up to 45 minutes, Kevin says, Zamboni love can wear thin.

Kevin KaneKevin Kane

KK: Some people tell me to hurry up. Obviously, and I’m trying to do what I can as fast as I can.

JS: The ice ribbon at Maggie Daley Park is managed by Westrec Marinas, the same company that runs the city's harbors, and the skating at Millennium Park.

How big is this in comparison with the ice rink in Millennium Park?

Scott Stevenson, executive vice president of Westrec Marinas: In surface area, it's about twice as big. And it's 26,000 square feet, and it's a trail. People skate along a quarter-mile trail, and it goes up and down—very different from skating around a rink.

JS: Alright. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on ice skates, but I can’t come all the way down here and not give it a try even if I do kind of humiliate myself. Let’s see how this goes.

Even as a non-skater and even when it’s 10 degrees out, I have to say this is pretty fantastic. What better urban backdrop could you have than this?

Tell me about how this is different from skating you’ve done.

Dave Kaknes, skater: Well, there’s a little bit of a hill here. It's not much of a hill, but you feel it going up, and you certainly feel it coming down,

Chris Myers and Kailynn DigesualdoChris Myers and Kailynn Digesualdo Chris Myers, skater: This is a lot cooler than a regular rink.

Kailynn Digesualdo, skater: This is my first time ice skating in general.

SS: I think anything that gets people outdoors in the winter and makes kids look forward to the winter and being cold. It’s one of the coldest days of the year and the sun is out and it’s great.

JS: If somebody comes down here and wants to skate, what do they need to know?

SS: They just need to get here, and if they bring their own skates, they can go right on the ice and skate for free. If they need to rent skates, we rent them to them.

JS: Although, don’t let today’s empty ice mislead you. These YouTube videos prove on warmer days the ice ribbon is packed with long lines for skate rentals. More than 30,000 people skated here in the first three weeks it was opened in 2014.

The new Maggie Daley Park also includes a giant castle playground and a climbing wall. But in the winter, the main attraction is this quarter-mile long ribbon and a new blue-and-white Zamboni.

The Ice Ribbon at the park is open daily through March, weather permitting (it's closed when it gets too warm, too rainy, too snowy or too cold). For more information, visit the rink's website.


Ice Skating in Chicago: Outdoor Rinks Serve Up Frozen Fun

Bundle up, strap on those blades and hit the ice at Chicago’s citywide outdoor ice skating facilities. From old-school to the cutting-edge, we’ll have you gliding gracefully into the long winter season.

Find more of Jay's stories about Chicago people and places right here.

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors