By Myers Reece – Flathead Beacon

Grab a broom, pick out a stone and put on your sliders – curling has arrived in Whitefish.

And if you don’t know what curling brooms or stones or sliders are, just show up at the Stumptown Ice Den every Saturday night beginning on Oct. 17. From 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. each Saturday, the Whitefish Curling Club will convene for an evening of curling, that peculiar sport so many people love to watch on the Olympics without necessarily knowing what’s going on.

John Hoepfer, who led the charge to bring curling to Whitefish, said the club is an opportunity for those curious curling observers to get a taste of the sport firsthand. And for those who are experienced curlers, Hoepfer said it’s a chance to hone skills in the company of like-minded peers.

The way Hoepfer sees it, pretty much anybody can enjoy the sport. Or at least give it a try. The first chance to give it a try will be at two “learn-to-curl” workshops on Oct. 10 and 11. Each session costs $10 or people can join the club for a year for $20 and get the session for free.

“It’s just fun,” Hoepfer said. “It’s a good game; it’s a thinking game.”

Curling, which is an icy cousin of lawn bowling and shuffleboard, is played by two teams of four on what is called a “sheet.” The sheet is essentially a long rectangle with a set of concentric rings – like a bulls-eye target – at the end. The goal is for teams to get their stones as close to the center of the target as possible.

One player slides a 44-pound granite stone down the sheet while two sweepers with “brooms” flank it, at times sweeping vigorously to cause friction to melt the ice just enough to change the stone’s trajectory. The sweepers also look for disruptive debris. A fourth player stands by the target and helps pick the line for the stone thrower.

Interested curlers don’t need their own equipment. The city of Whitefish provides the “sliders” to place on people’s shoes, as well as the brooms. Through an “adopt-a-stone” program, Hoepfer is trying to build up the club’s stone supply. It costs $440 per stone and includes an engraving of the adopter’s choice.

The main reason for the high price, Hoepfer said, is that the granite only comes from the Ailsa Craig island off the coast of Scotland. The sport is said to have originated in Scotland.

So far, six stones have been adopted. But while the club raises money for more stones, it will have access to 32 stones donated by a North Dakota curling club. Those stones can be used until January.

After moving to Whitefish in June, Hoepfer immediately made it his top priority to bring curling to town. He had done the same in Aspen, where he started a league that grew to 20 teams. Hoepfer said the city of Whitefish, particularly Stumptown’s rink manager Andy Hergesheimer, welcomed his ideas with open arms and helped form the club in only a couple of months.

The club is locked in to the Saturday evening hours throughout the winter, but Hoepfer said it’s possible that more ice time will be provided for tournaments and other occasions. The lines have been painted, though to minimize any confusion for hockey players and other ice users, the bulls-eye hasn’t been drawn. The club will draw it on each Saturday with magic markers, Hoepfer said.

Nationwide, interest in curling is growing, though it’s still a far cry from Canada, Hoepfer said. Since word began spreading about the curling club in Whitefish, Hoepfer said he has heard plenty of interest from both experienced curlers and interested beginners.

Several experienced instructors will be coming to town to help get the club on its feet, and Hoepfer is also a professional instructor. The club is affiliated with the United States Curling Association.

“We have all our ducks in a row,” Hoepfer said.

Hoepfer hopes to draw a wide range of people to the club. If Aspen is any indication, the sport catches on fast.

“It’s physical, it’s mental and it’s social,” Hoepfer said. “Anything can happen.”

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