It’s spring on the calendar, but at Glacier Ice Rink there are still plenty of people not ready to let go of winter.
At the outdoor rink, eight teams competed in the fourth annual Zootown Bonspiel curling competition, which started on Friday and continued throughout the weekend.
David Strobel, vice president of the Missoula Curling Club that put on the bonspiel, said curling is a sport that continues to gain popularity in the United States, largely because of its proximity to the curling capital of the world, Canada.
“There are 1.4 million curlers in the world; 1.2 million of them are in Canada,” Strobel said. In the mid 1800s, Winnipeg, Manitoba, became a hub of the curling world and the sport spread out from there.
In curling, two teams of four members each take turns sliding polished stones down a narrow ice sheet, aiming for a set of concentric rings at the opposite end called the house. As the stone is sliding, two members of the throwers’ team sweep the ice with special brooms to help control its speed and direction. In this weekend’s bonspiel, each match consisted of eight “ends.” In each end, the four members of each team throw two stones each, for a total of 16 stones thrown per end.
The special 42-pound granite stones used by curlers are made from rock from one of two places – a small island off the coast of Scotland, or a quarry in Wales. Because of environmental restrictions, granite from the Scotland source, called Ailsa Craig, can only be “harvested” about once every decade. Strobel said a full set of 16 curling stones can cost more than $10,000.
In addition to specialized equipment like the stones and brooms, curlers wear a Teflon pad called a slider on the bottom of one of their shoes.
Most of the teams participating in the bonspiel were local, but three – from Whitefish, Coeur d’Alene and Phoenix – made the trip.
David Rock, one of the members of the Phoenix team, said his team watches for bonspiels around the country, and uses them as a good reason to come play on different ice and meet new people.
“Nobody on the team has been here before, but it’s just fun to go somewhere new to compete,” he said.
As well as the competition over the weekend, the Missoula Curling Club also puts together league play and holds classes to teach people how to curl.
“We just had 600 kids out here from Big Sky High School who came to the rink and learned to play,” Strobel said.
The Missoula Curling Club started up four years ago with the help and support of the Glacier Ice Rink, which gave them a place to practice and play.
“It’s not traditional, but it’s great for the rink,” said Eric Penn, the rink’s executive director. “There is a ton of engagement from the community, and it gets new people out here who maybe weren’t as interested in other ice sports.”
The finals of the Zootown Bonspiel will start at 9 a.m. on Sunday. More information about the Missoula Curling Club, including about classes and leagues, can be found online at www.missoulacurlingclub.com or on the club’s Facebook page.
At the indoor rink next door, more than 130 figure skaters, ranging from kids as young as 4 to adults, competed in the fifth annual Glacier Challenge competition
Pam Hergett, the coordinator of the two-day event hosted by the Missoula Figure Skating Club, said the amateur competition included novice and experienced skaters from Montana, Idaho, Washington and Canada participating in individual, pair and team events.
“It’s a great way to give them more experience competing and to keep them ready for the bigger competitions,” she said.
One form of competition on Saturday was interpretive, where instead of coming in with their own music and routine, all of the contestants skated to the same song, which they heard for the first time in a short practice session just before the competition started. Without knowing what type of music they’ll get, skaters had to be ready to skate to any type of rhythm, from show tunes to the Beach Boys.
After the practice session, the first skater in the interpretive round took the ice while the rest of the competitors are sent to a locker room so they can’t see the performance.
Marina Black, 10, from Bozeman, competed in several individual events, including interpretive. Black, performing in her third Glacier Challenge, said she thinks interpretive is more difficult because there is no way to prepare.
“I usually just go out and skate during the practice time, but don’t try to put together my routine. I just listen to the music and think in my head what I want to do when it is my turn. A lot of times I don’t do a specific move if I know I want to use it later,” she said.
Hergett said this year the Glacier Challenge has almost twice the number of competitors as last year, and with the skaters from Canada, was the second international competition in the event’s five-year history.
“Every year it gets more well known and we get bigger clubs coming from even farther away to participate,” she said.