Visit the Utica Curling Club to Learn All About the Popular Winter Sport – And Try It Yourself!
November 20, 2022
If you’re like most folks during the Winter Olympics, you get fascinated with the unusual sport of curling. But did you know that you can try curling for yourself in Upstate New York? At the Utica Curling Club in Whitesboro, visitors can watch, learn, and even try curling. This is one of those unique activities you have to try at least once.
Thank you to Oneida County Tourism and the Utica Curling Club for inviting me to check out the club.
The History of Curling
Initially recognized in Scotland in the 1500s, the icy spectacle has grown in popularity throughout Nordic countries, Canada, and the United States. Understandably, the sport is most popular in places with the coldest climates.
The sport of curling is not an easy one. First, you have to have great balance – especially on ice. (This is where I already lost!) Then you need to learn the very subtle differences in the force you use to throw the stone. Plus the right amount of spin, or “curl”, that is necessary for the shot you want. And finally the sweepers need to perfect the speed and direction of sweeping, and when it is required.
At a bird’s eye level, the sport consists of two teams, each consisting of 4 players, who slide rocks across ice toward the target on the other end. A match is played in 8 – 10 rounds, and one team at most can score per round. The team who scores gets a point for how many stones they have closer to the center of the target than the other team’s closest stone. (See Curling Terminology below for more detailed descriptions and phrases.)
About the Utica Curling Club
Believe it or not, curling clubs exist all over the place – there are even two within an hour of Syracuse. First is the Utica Curling Club in Whitesboro, and secondly there’s the Rochester Curling Club in Rochester, NY.
The Utica Curling Club was originally formed in 1868 by Benjamin Allen along a creek that emptied into the Erie Canal. In the winter of 1891-1892, the club moved indoors to the Rutger Rink. The new rink provided a place for curling and ice skating that was safe from the wintry weather. Over the next hundred years, the building changed a handful of times before finding their final home in Whitesboro. The current facility features 6 sheets, a warm room with a large trophy collection, and a bar area for members to eat, drink, and watch their friends curl on the ice below.
Over its 150+ years of history, the Utica Curling Club has made an impact on the sport. Most notably, the club is one of the places where wheelchair curling techniques were perfected. The sport is now popular in the Paralympic Winter Games.
Although the Utica Curling Club is centered around membership, there are still plenty of opportunities for non-members to visit the club. On a typical weekend day during curling season, visitors are welcome to sit in the warm room upstairs and watch players practice or compete in a bonspiel.
No matter the event, if you plan to get on the ice at the curling rink, you need to plan appropriately. Wear clean sneakers and warm, loose-fitting clothing. The temperature in the rink is about 40 degree Fahrenheit.
“Try Curling” Days
Curling season begins in October and runs through early April each year. When the season starts in October, the club hosts several “Try Curling” Days where non-members can come to watch, learn, and try curling for themselves. The club has equipment that visitors can borrow, including grippers to cover your sneakers on the ice.
But if you miss the Try Curling days, you can also book a private curling session for a small group. Just contact the club and set it up for a time convenient for everyone.
Also beginning in October and running for several Sundays is the club’s Curling School. The school meets for three hours weekly, where students get a mixture of classroom instruction and practice on the ice. Members can attend the school for free, but non-members need to pay a fee of $120. It’s a great way for non-players to learn more about the sport and get a chance to practice before committing to a membership.
“Our House is Your House” Bonspiel
One of the most popular events at the club is their annual “Our House is Your House” Bonspiel. It’s a day where everyone is invited to the club – perfect for guests visiting from out-of-town. Members and non-members alike can practice on the ice and compete in a match. This year’s Our House is Your House Bonspiel is Saturday, November 26. Cost is $15 for members and $25 for non-members. This includes equipment rental and instruction for non-members, and refreshments with a light dinner for everyone.
If you’re watching – or trying – curling for the first time, it may sound like they are speaking another language! That’s because, like any sport, curling has its own terminology used to describe equipment and movements.
STONE – The disc-shaped granite rock used to slide down the ice, weighing between 38 and 44 pounds. (44 in the Olympics) SHEET – The lane of ice that a curling match is played on. Most rinks have several sheets, side by side. HOG LINE – Line across the width of the sheet. Curlers must release the stone before the line. HOUSE – The concentric circles that mark the target for the stones. BUTTON – The innermost circle in the house. LIE – The number of one team’s stones that are closer to the button than the other team’s closest stone. END – Similar to an inning in baseball, a curling match consists of 8 – 10 ends. During each end, each player throws two stones. GUARD – A stone thrown in front of the house to block the opponent’s stones. TAKEOUT – A stone thrown to remove an opponent’s stone from the house. HAMMER – The last stone thrown during an end. The team that throws the end has an advantage. BONSPIEL – A curling tournament. SKIP – The captain of the curling team; also makes the calls for the first 6 stones and throws the last two. VICE – Second to the skip. PEBBLE – Term used to describe the bumpy surface of the ice. HACK – The foot mount where the curler starts their slide.
Five & Under Teams
Unlike other sports, where “under” means all players are under that age, “under” in curling refers to the number of years a player has been playing. Since curling is a sport that is difficult to master, Five & Under leagues and bonspiels are designed for more introductory players.
Winning a Match
If your team loses a curling match, there is a consolation prize! It is tradition for the winning team to buy a round of drinks for the losing team, and enjoy them together. At the Utica Curling Club, each sheet has its own designated table in the restaurant area where the players meet after the match.