Who knew that pushing a stone down a sheet of ice could be such a blast?

By Natalie Behring

When traveling with a group, it can be a challenge to find activities everyone wants to do. It’s like picking a movie that everyone agrees to watch.

Well, good news: Your search is over. The next time you wonder what to do with your family or a group of friends—even with a date—head over to the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns and take a curling class. Curling may not be sexy, and its tournaments don’t get a lot of air time, but neither do shuffleboard or bowling—two well-loved pastimes you only have to play once to understand their appeal.

You should know that it has its own vocabulary. The giant hockey-puck thing with a handle is called a stone. If you’ve only ever watched curling on TV, you might not realize it’s a hunk of polished granite, not unlike the countertops in a remodeled kitchen, weighing at least 38 pounds. The ice, upon which the game is played, is called the sheet.

Curling instructor Tori Fica, center, shows students how to push and release the stone

A “broom” is used to sweep the ice in front of the moving stone. The sweeping motion causes friction, which raises the ice’s temperature and creates a thin layer of melt-water, making the sheet slippery. As the stone travels over the water, it can make a slight spinning motion in the shape of a curl—hence the name of the sport.

Curling instructor Tori Fica gathers her Friday night students in a circle. In a booming voice that belies her slender athletic frame, she yells out the rules. Two teams of four each send eight stones down the sheet (16 total between the two teams) with the goal of driving the stone to the either end of the sheet, toward circular targets within the ice they call a button. Points are awarded to the team with the most stones closest to the button. The team to deliver the last rock is said to “have the Hammer” because of its epic advantage to knock the daylights out of the opposing team’s best-placed stones.

Allison Webel had tried curling a few times with her husband, so when someone in her ski group suggested a curling class, she was happy to join in. She and her friends have been doing ski trips for the past 11 years, and they decided to mix it up this year with a different winter sport. “It’s a great group activity for the winter,” she says. “It definitely helps you embrace the season.”

Sweepers brush the ice surface furiously in front of the stone to help it move farther and faster

Casting a stone is an elaborate affair. The most dramatic bowlers look modest next to a curler. The caster looks out on the sheet with raptor-like intensity. In a pose reminiscent of a low lunge in yoga, the curler grips the 40-pound stone by the handle and glides forward over the ice, with one leg extended behind and continues gliding for several meters before letting go of the handle and sending it in the direction they want it to go. This maneuver is difficult, requiring balance and coaching. Beginners use a small plastic crutch to maintain equilibrium, like training wheels.

Then sweepers take over with brooms that they move furiously in front of the stones to help them move farther and faster.

The Crowder family also took part in the class. Mom Alisyn said she discovered it on Google and that all seven family members were trying it for the first time. “This is really fun,” she said. “It’s much harder than it looks—keeping your balance, getting the stone to spin the correct way, keeping it straight, getting it to where you think you are aiming. And the sweeping is tiring!”

The game is polite—no trash-talking your opponents. Fica tells her students before a game starts, the tradition is to shake hands with your opponents and say, “Good curling!”

A polite sport: The tradition is to shake hands with your opponents and say, “Good curling!”

The two-hour class offered fall through spring will set you back $18 per person. For more serious curlers, there is a Learners League and regular curling leagues for players of all experience levels.

You’ll find more information at UtahOlympicLegacy.org/sport/learn-to-curl.

After you’ve caught on to the basics, you’re eligible to attend a monthly Friday night event called Cosmic Curling. The next two will be held Feb. 21 and March 27 from 10 p.m. to midnight. The game is played under black lights and stones are lit in neon colors. Arrive early as there is a 48-person maximum allowed on the ice.

Utah Olympic Oval
5662 Cougar Lane, Kearns