Volunteers help make curling championships as smooth as ice

Shawn Oleson, chief ice maker at the National Curling Championships in Aston, monitors water filtration tanks.
Shawn Oleson, chief ice maker at the National Curling Championships in Aston, monitors water filtration tanks. (CLARK MINDOCK / Staff)
Posted: March 09, 2014

ASTON They talk funny. They drink Labatt beer, and they are incredibly friendly. They also love cowbells.

At least that's how some of the locals described the out-of-town visitors at this year's U.S. National Curling Championships in Aston, Delaware County.

Apparently, those with Minnesota and North Dakota accents seem quite foreign - but endearing.

"There was a guy, I felt so bad. I think he was trying to order a hamburger," said Teagen Holzhauser, who works at the bar and café at IceWorks Skating Complex, where the tournament is being held through Saturday.

"It's cool," she said. "Hearing all the accents is cool."

Attendance and the actual competition at the tournament got off to a slow start this year due to the snow last weekend. The tournament was held at IceWorks two years ago, and while ticket sales are up this year, people were slower to show up, officials said.

"The storm kind of killed us," said Dawn Davis, who also works at the bar and café. "Last time [the championships] were here, it was packed. You couldn't move."

On Wednesday, many of those in attendance for the afternoon session shook their cowbells to cheer on the curlers. But the stands were only half full.

Still, the folks at IceWorks were optimistic about Saturday's championship round. In 2012, they sold out on the day of the finals and had to turn people away.

"It's just such a neat event, especially so close to the Olympics," said George Scherbakm, a co-owner of IceWorks. "We're pretty sure we're going to have more" than in 2012."

About 100 volunteers came from all over - including New York, Virginia, and North Dakota, and even Scotland - about two weeks ago to prepare the ice sheets and help out with the competitors and fans. A series of four tanks hooked up to a city water source are used to distill and regulate the chemical levels of the water before it is frozen. Workers said they need the water to be clean - allowing only one part per million of foreign contaminants - because curling stones are fickle, and the ice surface must be just the right consistency.

It's the volunteers who make sure the ice is smooth for the curlers, and they use giant saws to shave away any bumps. After that, they sprinkle the sheets with droplets of water that freeze into little pebbles of ice that help the stones slide easier.

"Ice is a kind of, I wouldn't say living thing, but it changes quickly," Mark Callan said.

Callan, from Scotland, served as a consultant for the icemen at IceWorks. But he was in charge of the curling ice at the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

"It changes by things, like how many people are [in the arena] watching, humidity," Callan said. "Even outside weather."

Even the smallest imperfection can throw off a curler. And those players pay a lot of attention to the ice.

"If they just walk in and don't notice any inconsistencies, then that's a good day," said Shawn Oleson of Fargo, N.D., the chief ice maker for these championships.

"Just an eyelash will turn the rock sideways."

U.S. Curling Championships

What: U.S. National Curling Championships.

Where: IceWorks Skating Complex, 3100 W. Dutton Mill Rd., Aston.

Schedule: Women's finals, Saturday, 10 a.m. Men's finals, Saturday, 3 p.m.

For more info: Call 610-497-2200 or visit www.iceworks.net




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