With Olympic Games Arriving, Curling Interest Spikes

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH — Every four years, about the time the Winter Olympics approaches, national interest spikes around a peculiar game on ice.

The tactical, gliding game of curling, similar to bowling and shuffleboard and nicknamed “Chess on Ice,” has slid into America’s winter sports psyche over the past decade. It’s nowhere near approaching the level of fervor that it has in Canada, where the country’s men’s team is a beloved icon and back-to-back winner of Olympic gold.

Yet curling has a distinct pulse in America, especially when the Winter Games pushes the sport to the forefront of global competition.

In Whitefish, the sport has become a mainstay with well-established roots, and the arrival of the Olympics only means an added boost in excitement and activity surrounding curling. Five years after being founded, the Whitefish Curling Club remains a fun source of sliding stones at Stumptown Ice Den.

“It is such a fun sport. I see a lot of people smiling,” says John Hoepfer, who manages the ice at Stumptown and founded the club in 2009. “It’s like so many things at the rink, it’s like family.”

The local curling club is kicking off its new season Jan. 10. Six teams are currently signed up to play in the Friday night league, with room for more, according to club president Jack Minnich. The teams will play on three sheets of ice inside Stumptown and the fourth sheet will remain open for teams or players who want to show up and practice or learn to curl for free. The league fee is $20, which covers insurance to use the ice.

“There’s always room for people to show up and substitute on teams or come out and practice,” Minnich says.

Thanks to fundraising over the years, the club has obtained enough 45-pound stones for eight teams to play at once. The stones are genuine curling stones made of granite from specific quarries in Scotland. The club has an “Adopt a Stone” program that allows people or companies to have their name etched into the granite rock.

Jack Minnich, president of the Whitefish Curling Club, shows off a stone at the Stumptown Ice Den. – Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The club has become a lively source of friendly competition, says Minnich. For those who don’t know how to play, the club hosts “Learn to Curl” nights. The next events are during the Olympics, Feb. 27 and March 4.

The sport combines a fun mixture of strategy and skill. Like bowling, one player at a time sends the heavy granite stones down a marked-off corridor that’s 145 feet long. The goal is to land the stone inside a set of concentric circles, with the best shot settling into the large bulls-eye. While one player shoots a stone, two teammates, called sweepers, shuffle alongside the stone, scrubbing the ice with brooms to alter the speed and path of the shot as necessary. A fourth teammate stands near the bulls-eye, communicating with the sweepers in an effort to get the stone as close to the middle of the target as possible. After the shot, the next team can try to do the same, or try to push the opponent’s stone out of scoring position.

“It’s fascinating to watch, it really is,” Hoepfer says. “It’s definitely a sport for all ages.”

The club is always welcoming new players to take part in the action or learn to curl on Friday nights inside Whitefish’s Stumptown Ice Den at 725 Wisconsin Ave. For more information, visit whitefishcurling.com.

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