OK,… Foremost around here, we certainly have to get Saddleback, the crown jewel of winter sports in the area, sold and up and running first.

However, Saddleback’s absence as a winter sports venue over that past four years did help spawn some other outdoor sports options…and curling is one of them.

So, what is curling, you say?  I won’t get into the sport’s storied history that goes back centuries in the British Isles, (primarily Scotland) before making it to North America.  I will say, that the sport is growing in popularity in America’s northern states and Canada.  Leading the pack, are upper midwest cold weather states like Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Basic Rangeley Lakes Curling Club outdoor curling venue during a Sunday afternoon practice session on Haley Pond. Allen Wicken

It is a competition that requires a reliably smooth and long rectangular sheet of ice with large “bulls eyes” called a “house”, inscribed and colored at each end. Much like shuffleboard, the object is to slide, not lightweight shuffleboard discs, but 40 lb. granite rocks (or stones) the length of the sheet by two teams of four players.  Each player slides two stones. Various strategies are employed to end up with one’s team’s stones closest to the center (the button) of the “house” in each “end” or inning as in baseball.  8 or 10 “ends” comprise a match.

Launching that stone (with a convenient handle on top) accurately down the sheet of ice is the challenging part.  In the case of the sheet of ice that we use on Haley Pond, the challenge is made greater by an unreliably smooth surface (read that: cracks and a sometimes bumpy surface despite the hard work of our dedicated ice-making specialists).  You see, most curling venues are indoors and unaffected by the outdoor weather that includes snow, rain, and whatever else the gods choose to drop on ponds such as Haley amid wildly varying temperatures and wind velocities.

Consistently maintained smooth ice conditions is the overarching goal.  That is why almost all curling venues are indoors whereby the ice is maintained as smooth as essentially all indoor skating or hockey rinks in the world.  But hey, one has to start somewhere…hopefully the indoor arena will come someday as soon as 2-3 million dollars in U.S. currency, or perhaps a bunch of willing Habitat for Humanity folks with little regard for their honorable housing mission, comes our way.  In the meantime, curling outside on Haley Pond will have to do.  In spite of all the meteorologic challenges, it remains a curiously enjoyable outdoor winter sport in the Rangeley Lakes.

Curling first became a Winter Olympics sport in the 1980’s.  That is when most of us first experienced curling for a few minutes before changing the TV channel to skiing or hockey…sports that we northern tier Americans understood reasonably well.

I first experienced curling firsthand in the large and beautiful venue in Duluth, Minnesota about 20 years ago.  I went there to see what all the excitement was about, and to perhaps become excited about the sport myself.  Even though the conditions were optimal, and the curlers were apparently very good, I didn’t get it.  Of course, nobody explained the rules and strategies to me, nor did I ask more than the most basic of questions.  Quite honestly, for me that Saturday afternoon, it was something akin to watching paint dry.

Then two things occurred, almost simultaneously around 2016, that eventually led to the formation of the Rangeley Lakes Curling Club.  First, Chris Devine, the former Executive Director of the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust, and a curling enthusiast from New Hampshire…assembled a group of semi-interested, if not just curious, folks at the Ecopelagicon Nature Store to learn the rudiments of the sport…and to see the prototype of his set of 16 homemade curling stones (see trophy photo) made of stainless steel mixing bowls, galvanized pipe handles, rubber tubing “bumpers”, and filled with concrete.  It was a memorable evening.

Secondly, the U.S. Curling team, actually the top team from that Duluth, Minnesota club that I observed fifteen years earlier, miraculously won the gold medal in the most recent Winter Olympics.  That bumped up curling interest all over the U.S.

The curling seeds were planted in Rangeley by Chris.  His initial enthusiasm has sustained the local interest, even though he needed to move on from Maine and New England about three years ago.

Today, the local curling effort continued with the formation of the Rangeley Lakes Curling Club, fundraising a year ago to purchase a set of 16 secondhand granite curling stones (they aren’t cheap), a weather-permitting schedule of Wednesday evening and Sunday afternoon pick-up curling matches to perfect our skills on the imperfect ice, and the staging of four curling “bonspiels” (competitive tournaments) in February…the fifth annual bonspiel will happen in a month or so, in February, 2020.

As one of Chris’ early “curling students”,…last spring I suggested that in addition to the four small trophies handed out to the winning bonspiel team members each year…that we create a large permanent trophy with small plaques attached to a base, to include the year and name of the winning team as well as members names.  And to include a cement-free replica of one of Chris’ iconic homemade “stones” on top.

Jeff Zapolsky then made the beautiful hardwood base in his workshop, and Peter Christensen took time away from his expert ice-management skills to make the replica of one of the original “stones” (see photo) to be mounted on top.  A larger plate has been engraved to identify it as the Chris Devine Curling Stone and a brief explanation of Chris’ important efforts in establishing curling locally.

Jeff Zapolsky with the “Chris Devine Curling Stone” trophy. Jeff made the beautiful base for the prototype “Curling Stone” made by Chris Devine. Peter Christensen made the “stone” for the trophy….without the concrete filling. Allen Wicken

Meanwhile, current leaders of the curling club, including Brent Quimby, Jim Ferrara, Karen Seaman, and others, have been collecting information on curling in New England, both with indoor and the rare outdoor venues…to further our collective knowledge of, and contacts with, other resources in various expertise’ areas of the curling sport.

My wife and I are in Colorado as I type this column, visiting our sons and their families in the lovely foothills towns of Boulder and Golden.  I learned that the Denver Curling Club and its facility is actually located in Golden, just 3-4 miles from our younger son’s home.  Therefore, I checked their website and found that this past Saturday they had a number of activities on their schedule.  I arrived around noon as the youth curling sessions were finishing, and the adult leagues were about to start in the afternoon.  I asked a lot of questions of the manager at the the time and she was extremely helpful, as were other curlers.  I plan to return to Rangeley and share what I learned, including photos and short videos of very competent curlers in action…and photos of ice-management equipment (you don’t need a Zamboni), etc.

Outdoor view of the Denver Curling Club facility located in Golden, Colorado Allen Wicken

I personally envision a structure (no specific time-frame, but realistically within this decade we just stepped into) in the Rangeley Region, that can provide shelter from the winter weather for ice skating, curling, pick-up pond hockey games and so forth….as well as being a venue for gatherings and events during the other three seasons here in the  four-season outdoor recreation region known throughout New England as thbeautiful Rangeley Lakes.

Indoor view of the Denver Curling Club featuring four “sheets” of beautiful, smooth ice and dozens of Coloradans having fun curling on a Saturday afternoon in January, 2020. Allen Wicken

Make sense?

We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are.

                                                                  Garrison Keillor

I’ll be ridin’ shotgun, underneath the hot sun, feelin’ like a someone…

                                                                                         Pomplamoose

Per usual, your thoughts and comments are more than welcome.  Jot them down on a 3”x5” card and slip it inside the log door on our mudroom….or simply fire off an email to [email protected]

 

The Rangeley Lakes Curling Club logo/window sticker. The indoor curling venue shall follow in due time. Allen Wicken

 

 

 

 

 

 

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