“Which sheet are we on?”
There was a hubbub of organized confusion as the group of curlers prepared to head out onto the ice. A few people were stretching, some were checking their equipment, others were changing from outdoor boots to shoes.
“Which team do we play tonight?”
“I’m playing for Les. Is he here yet?”
Curling is played on many levels. You can participate in mixed or co-ed games, competitive leagues, recreational fun leagues and, of course, everyone’s favourite: the bonspiel, a feature on many community winter schedules.
Curling doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment to get started. You’ll need a pair of indoor shoes (something like a heavy running shoe), a “slider” for the bottom of one shoe and a special broom. Though some brooms have small bristles, many of them today have a smooth fabric surface.
“We’re on sheet number three.”
Curling is played on a sheet of specially pebbled ice which will seem incredibly slippery; moving around with the use of your “slider” will require your undivided attention. Things will be a bit wobbly at first, but soon enough you’ll be whizzing back and forth like the pros.
You may be surprised at what a good workout curling can be. This is especially true if your teammates throw their rocks too gently and you need to sweep hard all game long to help the rock, 40 pounds of sliding granite, reach the end.
You might sweep a lot harder than you would at home, but at least there are no windows to clean. A few warm-up practice slides before the big game begins will get you on your way. The playing area is not uncomfortably cold; a lot of people play without gloves or hats. One or two are wearing T-shirts.
There are four players to a team and generally the most experienced will be the “skip” and call the shots. You’ll even learn how to read those mysterious scoreboards.
A burst of congenial laughter came from Sheet 1 as a player plunked onto the ice, having leaned too hard on the broom. Almost at the same time, a loud groan from Sheet 5 announced that a close shot hadn’t done what it was supposed to do.
There is a unique curling etiquette: participants are polite, friendly and helpful. Players from the other team may even help call a few of your shots during non-competitive games. When it’s all over, everyone has a chance to socialize in the Eleventh End Lounge, replaying each shot and developing a winning strategy for next time.
The curling community in Whitehorse is a very positive, welcoming and supportive one. The facility at Mount McIntyre, like the Canada Games Centre, is beyond compare for a community of our size, boasting eight sheets of ice expertly tended by local guru Doug Gee.
Visitors from Outside frequently remark on the quality of the ice and how fortunate we are to have such a top-notch facility.
Consider participating in the “Learning to Curl” clinic on Jan. 10 and 11 from 1 to 3 p.m. if you are intrigued by the sport and want to give it a try.
For those wishing to brush up their technique, there will also be a “Skills Improvement” option.
Junior curling happens between 5 and 6:30 p.m. Thursdays. There is also the “Rockers” program for kids Saturday mornings from 10:30 a.m. until noon.
Barring major events, practice ice is available at no charge weekdays between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and again from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
For more information, call the Whitehorse Curling Club at 667-2875.
Now, get out there and sweep. Hard.
PHOTO: BRENDAN PRESTON www.brendanpreston.com