Paul Golomski wears many hats. His official title is Facilities Manager at the Pettit National Ice Center. His unofficial title, that he carries with playful disdain, is “Ice Meister.”
“I hate the name,” he says, while walking towards the Zamboni.
He pulls handles and pushes buttons and climbs the 10 feet into his seat. He reverses onto the Pettit’s quarter-mile Olympic-sized track and starts his first lap.
Golomski, who prefers “ice master,” the more official and distinguished designation, makes ice. He’s done so for 18 years at the Pettit Center. In that time he’s earned himself what is invaluable in the speed skating world: a good reputation.
“Your reputation is really attributed to the times that people skate on your ice,” Golomski explains.
That reputation earned him a career-defining moment: an invitation to join the elite ice making team at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang.
Golomski’s excitement is contained within his humble, even-keeled manner.
Do you want to go to the Olympics and be on the ice and make ice for the Olympic Games? How can you say no to that?
Making ice is more complicated than it sounds. There’s the heating system that keeps the air hovering around 61 degrees, then there’s the cooling system that tries to keep the ice around 19 degrees.
“They’re constantly fighting each other,” Golomski says.
The science is what he loves about it, though. Riding the Zamboni he explains that oxygen and gas are the enemies of ice.
“When you make ice with high temperature water you remove a lot of that gas content,” which apparently is the thing that makes ice brittle and break more easily.
A fundamental key to smooth, fast ice is pure water. Solids will rise to the surface creating unwanted traction for speed skaters carrying upwards of 40 mph on their feet. This standard of water is achieved through reverse osmosis.
If people think a Zamboni is an oversized lawn mower for ice, that astute comparison is not far off.
As the Zamboni coasts around the oval, it is cutting, washing, then coating the ice with a new top layer, called the “glide layer.” Water that is heated to 155 degrees is sprayed on the ice then smoothed with a towel. This all happens as this big, blue, grumbling machine delicately drifts at around 10 mph.
The resulting sheen is what makes ideal skating conditions for athletes pushing to get their fastest time.
Watch the Community Stories video above as we hold on for dear life riding alongside Paul on the Zamboni.
And listen to our audio version below, produced by Nate Imig.
Producer’s Note: We had the pleasure of witnessing the U.S. Olympics Speed Skating Team practice before heading to PyeongChang days later. Of those we watched Erin Jackson, the first African American woman to make the Olympic long-track team, practice her starting line sprint. Look for that in the video!