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A curler throwing his rock.

Image: Mark Maziarz

What do you think of when someone says curling? You may vaguely recall watching this interesting sport--people sliding giant rocks on a sheet of ice and sweeping it with brooms--during the Winter Olympics. It isn't an event that garners a whole lot of attention, unless you live in a place where it's a big deal (like the small town in Minnesota I lived in, where everyone took a curling class in high school because the local rink was home to both the men's and women's U.S. Olympic teams in 2006). The sport originated in Scotland sometime during the 16th century, where playing the game on frozen ponds was immensely popular. It was Scottish immigrants who brought curling to North America and today, of the roughly 1.5 million people who play the game around the world, 1.2 million of them are in Canada. 

True to its reputation as a mecca of winter sports, Park City is, of course, also a place you can try your hand at curling with the Park City Curling Club hosts their "Learn to Curl" clinic on December 26. Although at first glance you might find curling a bit silly, the game is actually a lot of fun and, as a sport of strategy, tactic, and skill rather than physical prowess, it can be played by at almost any age. 

Basics of the Game

Here are the basics of curling. On a sheet of ice, there's a target on either end called the house. The goal is to score points by getting your team's stones closest to the button (the smallest circle inside the house) and prevent the other team from scoring by knocking their rocks out of the house. Even though curling stones are heavy, weighing in at about 42 pounds, they're easy to slide across ice.

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Curling teams consist of four players: the thrower (the person throwing the rock), two sweepers (the people with brooms), and the skip (the person in charge). There are ten ends in a game, during which every team member throws two rocks, alternating with the other team for a total of sixteen rocks. The person who throws first is the lead, followed by the 2nd, 3rd, and the skip. The thrower pushes off from the hack and must release the stone before crossing the hog line. Once a stone is thrown, the two sweepers (under the direction of the skip) use brooms to sweep in front of the stone. The sweeping motion heats the ice, reducing the friction underneath the stone, allowing it to go further, decreasing the amount of curl, and cleaning debris in the stone's path that could throw off its trajectory. Throwing the final rock of an end, called the hammer, gives the team as huge advantage in scoring. Possession of the hammer for the first end is typically decided by a coin toss, but is awarded to the team that scored the least the preceding end. 

Once all sixteen curling stones have been thrown, the team with their stone closest to the button wins the end. They get one point for every stone they have inside the house that is closer than the opponent's closest one.

Curling Terms

Bonspiel: A curling tournament. 

Burned stone: A stone touched while in motion

Die!: Call given by the skip for the sweepers to stop sweeping a rock; a rock that dies is a rock that stops moving

Heavy ice: When the ice is slow, and the stones have to be thrown harder

Icemaker: Person responsible for maintaining the ice; duties include, but are not limited to, pebbling and scraping the ice. 

Learn to Curl Clinic

Ready to hit the ice to hone your curling skills? Come out on December 26th from 8-10:15 p.m. to the Park City Ice Arena for the "Learn to Curl" clinic, open to anyone (ages 11+) interested in trying out the game. It's only $20 per person and includes all the equipment. During the clinic members of the Park City Curling Club will be introducing people to the sport and their club. Wear loose fitting clothing, a sweater or jacket, and a clean pair of sneakers. You must register online ahead to participate and capped at 50 people so sign up early!

Once you have some curling experience under your belt, you'll also have the chance to join the league or stop by for drop-in curling sessions. Take advantage of this opportunity to try something new and different. Who knows, maybe we'll see you in the next Winter Olympics?

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