To curl or not to curl? Breckenridge’s new question
summit daily news
Summit County, Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE – It was a few days after the closing ceremonies in Vancouver, but Wednesday at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge, it was clear: Some Summit residents still had Olympic fever.
And, no, we’re not talking about the walking pneumonia some folks got from standing for hours in the chilling Canuck drizzle during the Games.
Nope. We’re talking about the thrill of hucking off the hack, sliding up to the hog line and releasing a brilliant come-around to the T-line.
We’re talking curling – right here at The Steve.
Wednesday’s slate of nearly seven hours worth of curling games in Breck culminated in a three-day series at the ice arena in which 16 teams of five were taught the game and given the chance to get on the ice and roll some rocks.
“It’s something I’ve been wanting to set up for a few years now,” said Kevin Zygulski, the ice arena manager. “We’ve put some feelers out in the past to see what the interest level was and never got much response. This time was different.”
Piggybacking off the attention the sport got during NBC’s coverage of the Games, the arena got quite a response from locals looking to learn the predominantly Canadian sport.
The initial hope, Zygulski said, was to get about five teams – or 25 people – to participate.
Within days of the first promotions, Zygulski said the program hit its limit of 16 teams. A few days later, 14 teams were on the waiting list, while another four full teams weren’t even able to get on that.
“I was extremely surprised,” Zygulski said. “I was just surprised with the 16 teams signing up, but then to have so many others on the waiting list was way beyond our expectations.”
Rudy Burki claims that the perception of curling as shuffleboard on ice is totally inaccurate.
“It’s more like chess on ice,” he said with a smile.
And Burki, who has lived with his wife in Dillon for nine years, was one of the two instructors during the sessions at The Steve that were teaching the curling newbies the finer nuances of the game.
“There’s so much strategy to it beyond just throwing a rock down there and hoping it bounces its way in,” Burki said.
Assisting him in the instruction was Scott Stevinson of Littleton, an avid curler and a member of both the Denver Curling Club and the Broadmoor Curling Club in Colorado Springs.
The two gave teams – in two hour increments – lessons on the game both Monday and Tuesday. There was a 30-minute classroom session to start, where participants learned the lingo and the basic premise of the game. Then, everyone hit the ice for some instruction on form and technique.
Although he says curling is much more difficult and complex than it looks on TV, Stevinson said it’s not too tricky to get the hang of it.
“It certainly takes a little while to get the balance and be proficient, but it’s not hard to pick up,” he said. ” … By the time we were done with the hour-and-a-half on the ice and 30 minutes in classroom, they were getting it down to the other end and getting it in the rings.”
And that was the whole idea to Wednesday’s session, which started at around 4 p.m. and lasted almost until 11.
Teams were given two-hour slots to play games against one another, with both Burki and Stevinson there for assistance.
Although that may not have been enough time to get in a full game – which consists of eight “ends,” similar to innings in baseball – the response from those participating was very positive.
“It’s a sport for people of all ages to enjoy,” Stevinson said. “I’ve seen people from 10 to 80 playing, people in wheelchairs, people that can’t even bend down to push off the hack for the throw. It’s really just a sport for everyone.”
During Burki’s time in Canada, he and his wife curled about three nights every week in local leagues, and more than anything, it was the social aspect of the sport that really drew him to it.
“Typically, all the curling clubs have a bar in the club, and it’s etiquette for the winning team to buy the losing team a drink. Then the losing team reciprocates,” he said. “Even though it takes only a couple hours to play, you spend another couple hours socializing. It’s a real community atmosphere.”
That’s what he hopes will eventually get going in Breck.
Although, there are quite a few obstacles in the way.
Above all else is cost.
If the arena were to buy used stones, likely in poor condition, Zygulski said they’d cost about $250 – apiece. New stones range from $500 all the way up to $2,500 for the top-of-the-line.
To play one game of curling, there needs to be 16 total stones, eight for each team.
“Ideally, you’d want to be able to play with between two and four lanes,” Zygulski said. “So that price just goes up. It’s something we really have to look into more.”
The stones used for the three-day session at The Steve were on loan from the Denver Curling Club and brought up to the county by Stevinson.
There are programs that allow for a beginner club to receive loaned stones for up to two years, and Zygulski said that may be a good option.
Overall, though, it will all come down to interest and working the sport into the arena’s rather full slate of hockey leagues and skating sessions.
Zygulski had the outdoor rink at the arena used for curling last week, with all the lines and rings painted into the ice.
“That’s the easy part,” he said of getting the ice ready. “The hard part will be seeing if we can sustain the interest and figure out a cost-effective way to get it going.”
Whether it’s a full-out league or just drop-in sessions, Zygulski certainly hopes curling can become a mainstay in Breck.
“I’ve worked for the town for over 13 years, but I saw a whole lot of faces at curling that I’ve never seen before,” he said. “It was really encouraging to see so many new people, and that’s what we want. We want as many people active in the community and at the arena.”
“We’ll need to see if the interest is real, though,” he continued. “It’s a little hard to tell if everyone is just excited about it from the Olympics or if this will just keep going.”
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