Standing in his backyard on Pleasant Street in Clinton, which overlooks the Sebasticook River, Rob Wilbur breathes in the cold air, savoring it. Others may bundle up and stay inside to escape the cold, but Wilbur does all he can to stay outside.

“I hibernate in the summer,” he said.

Wilbur’s long backyard is proof enough that he and his family are big fans of winter weather. On a cold Sunday, he’s making repairs to a homemade ice rink for his children. Closer to the river is a spot that has served as a ski jump. He’s even built a rope-towing system for a skier to get back to the top of the yard’s high point.

Wilbur and his family are people whom other Maine residents would describe as a hardy bunch. Wilbur’s son, Devon, is 11. Erica Palmer, Wilbur’s girlfriend, has a son, Tyler Harris, who is 14. The boys are not shy about the cold and prefer to get outside to sitting inside getting cabin fever, providing Wilbur with at least some of the rational for creating the rink.

“When you have boys all cooped up and bored, they want to go outside,” he said. “They’re on the rink constantly.”

This is the second winter in which Wilbur has built an ice rink. He admits it’s a trial-by-error learning experience. With about $300 worth of supplies, such as plywood and plastic, he logged roughly a hundred hours of labor over the course of a month and a half to add an impressive hockey rink to his backyard. The 20-foot-by-50-foot rink is surrounded by lights and features painted lines similar to a real hockey rink.

On this bitterly cold Sunday, he was preparing to flood the rink after the rain and mid-month thaw had softened and melted the ice. He was busy padding slushy snow into cracks in the ice and was waiting for the sun to go down before flooding the rink again. Even with temperature back in the low double digits, the warmth of the sun is a challenge for making ice.

Others share the Wilbur and Palmer family’s affinity for winter weather.

The Lavallee family in Vassalboro have also built their own rink, and skating needs and rituals have reached into the house.

“The dining room table is for drying hockey gear,” Sarah Lavallee said over a pile of skates and pads left there by Jacob, 9, and Kaitlyn, 6.

“They get ready in here, then make their way out there,” Lavallee said as she searched through Kaitlyn’s gear.

Jacob began skating when he was about 3 years old, Lavallee said, and his passion for the ice came from watching professionals. Lavallee said she came home one day and her husband, Paul, and Jacob were watching the NHL playoffs. Since then, winter has been all skates and ice.

The Lavallees have built an outdoor rink in their backyard for the last five years, and this year they made it bigger than ever. Even in below-zero weather, the children are always out on the ice.

Kaitlyn began by taking classes to learn how to skate, but she wanted to play hockey because her older brother plays. As Sarah helped Kaitlyn put on her pads and gear, she credited their outdoor rink with helping her get more comfortable on the ice.

“She’s really, really fallen in love with it,” her mother said, adding that the rink has definitely made Kaitlyn more independent.

The Lavallees are a hockey family. Sarah recalled a recent weekend when the family was at games at the University of Southern Maine. Kaitlyn had practice first thing in the morning, and Jacob had games. The family left home at 7 a.m. and didn’t get back until 5 p.m.

“The first thing they did was go out there,” she said, indicating the rink.

Rob Wilbur said he began outfitting his backyard to become a winter sports course when his son was born. While his passion was skiing, having a newborn in the house didn’t lend itself to sneaking off to the mountain in the winter. All it took was some Yankee ingenuity to turn his backyard into a winter-weather playground.

“It’s about bringing the recreation here,” he said.

Wilbur’s boys, like the Lavallee children, are constantly out on the ice. He takes pride in that, saying it is important for people to get outside to see the sky and feel the cold.

“It’s been my culture,” Wilbur said. “That’s what I’m passing on, I hope.”

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

 

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