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Curling invades Ham Arena

Mount Washington Valley Curling Club's Curl-A-Palooza set for Saturday

PAT KITTLE throws a stone during a curling practice session at Ham Arena on Friday, Aug. 12. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
August 15, 2011
CONWAY — Every four years, it seems that there is one sport that captures imaginations and inspires numerous questions across the United States.

That sport is curling.

When the Winter Olympics take place, curling jumps in popularity and it was the most recent Olympics in 2010 that got some people in the Mount Washington Valley thinking about how they could get curling to the area.

Pat Kittle, who is on the Ham Arena Board of Directors, was approached by a number of people about the possibility of having the sport make a home at the Ham Arena. With a number of inquiries, Kittle took the requests to the board.

Rink manager Daryl Umlah was not convinced at first.

"He was originally skeptical because he knows curling needs really good ice," Kittle said, noting that the misconception was that curling needed a dedicated rink.

"But we did some research and found that a lot of multi-use rinks do curling," Kittle said.

The group did only a small amount of publicity before the first meeting, yet 50 people showed up on that first night to express interest and another 10 or so indicated they were interested but would be unable to attend the meeting.

"It was really energizing to see that many people," Kittle said.

In June, the group took its cause to the Business To Business Expo at the Mount Washington Hotel and another 60 people or so showed interest, so they came back to the arena with a list of about 120 people with at least an interest in curling.

A board was formed to create the Mount Washington Valley Curling Club and the group has been working on getting curling going in the valley ever since.

Without much publicity, the word has been getting around and the club's first big event will be taking place on Saturday, Aug. 20, from 4 to 8 p.m.

Curl-A-Palooza will feature an exhibition from the Nashua Curling Club and an open house throughout the evening. The visiting curling club will play two matches of about two hours each and during intermission, three winners will be chosen to come on the ice and throw a stone for a chance to win a club membership.

While curling's popularity in the United States peaks around the Olympics every four years, there are still very few places in the region for those that wish to play. Nashua has its own dedicated curling rink, there's one in Belfast, Maine and another in Woodstock, Vt., but that's basically it.

"We're basically it in this area," Kittle said. "We're hoping to draw people from all around the area."

The rink

Visitors to the Ham Arena over the last month or so have probably noticed the new paint on the ice surface.

The curling lanes (there is three of them) run from approximately from the hockey faceoff circle at one end to the same spot at the other end. Each end features a target, or "button," where curlers aim the stone. Each button is in a "house," which serves as the area in which each competitor can throw the stone.

Additionally, before a curling match takes place, the ice is usually sprayed with a fine mist of water, causing small dots to raise on the ice, which allows for the stones to move faster.

The equipment

The curling stones weigh between 38 and 42 pounds apiece and the ones the MWV group acquired are made from granite that was taken from an island off of Scotland. Each set has 16 stones and with three matches able to be played at once, 48 stones are needed for the Conway group.

However, the stones are quite expensive, as each set of eight costs approximately $10,000.

"We felt we needed to buy our own stones and own our own stones," Kittle said.

The Cape Cod Curling Club stepped in at that point. The group was selling its three sets and was purchasing new ones. The MWV Curling Club was able to purchase a set for $3,200 and a member of the Cape Cod group stepped up and loaned the new club the money to purchase the other two with the idea that the MWV club would pay back in installments.

Other equipment the group purchased included the brooms, which are used to sweep the ice in front of the stones and Teflon pieces for the bottom of one foot for each team member. These pieces allow the curlers to slide across the ice easier when they are throwing a stone.

"The intent is, that a person would just need to show up with a good pair of speakers," Kittle said. "Everything else is provided by the club."

The game

Curling is a unique game, one that not tons of people may be completely familiar with.

There are four people to a team and each person gets two stones. The object is to get one of your team's stones closest to the button. For that, your team gets a point. Additionally, if one team has the two closest stones out of all 16, they get two points and it goes on. The most a team could get is eight points, but Kittle noted that it is almost impossible.

The "hack" is frozen in the ice behind the button and serves as kind of a starting block for the person throwing the stone. Typically, a stone is released with spin, moving one way or another, depending on how it needs to go.

"A good curler can make it go around other stones," Kittle said.

One trip through the 16 stones is called an end and there are typically eight or 10 ends per match.

One member of each team will stand at the opposite end of the ice to direct his teammates where to throw the stone. This person is the skip. When the skip is throwing, the vice-skip serves in that duty. The skip is traditionally the last person to throw for his or her team.

Getting started

The object of the Curl-A-Palooza on Saturday is to get people to come out and check out the sport and see if they are interested. The league will play from October through April. If people show up and show more interest in the sport, they are invited to learn to curl events, which will be short half-hour or so events where they learn the basics of the game from club members who have extensive experience. Pete Ellis of Madison is the group's most experienced curler and he led a group through the paces on a recent afternoon at Ham Arena.

If people are still interested after those sessions, there will be some classes to get even more of the basics down and get folks on the ice an throwing before the season starts in October.

"There's three steps," Kittle said. "The first is check it out, the second is get out and try it and the third is join the league.

The club will offer three different membership levels. A full membership will curl every Saturday night during the season. A trial membership will be for the first half of the season and a social membership will be for a couple times a month for those unable to commit to every Saturday.

The fees for membership will be used to help pay for the equipment and the insurance and there will be a fee for ice time for players on Saturdays.

One thing Umlah noted when the curling meetings began taking place was that many of the people showing up were new to the arena, which Kittle said was certainly a bonus for the rink.

Anyone interested in the Mount Washington Valley Curling Club can visit the club's Facebook page at MWVCurling or call the Ham Arena to be put in touch with the directors.

The Curl-A-Palooza will take place on Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m. at the arena and food will be provided by Almost There. The public is invited to come and check out curling and see if it's something they are interested in.

Then, when the Sochi Olympics roll around in a few years, people in the Mount Washington Valley will have a pretty good idea what the sport is all about.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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