There’s something seductive about curling.
When most of us watch other Winter Olympic sports, say ski jumping or skeleton, we can’t imagine risking life and limb to fly off a mountain or speed down an icy track at 80 miles an hour, head first.
But when we watch married couples from Canada or Wisconsin gently push a big rock across the ice, then sweep a nifty path for it and scream like crazy, we say, “Yeah, I could do that.”
But could we? Fortunately for us, Maine has lots of places where people can get a taste of some of the Winter Olympic sports that have kept us glued to the TV since early February.
So, if you want to be a skip (sort of like the quarterback in curling) or to call yourself a “biathlete,” here are some places to go to get started.
IT’S A SMALL CURL AFTER ALL
Don’t believe that curling is “sweeping” the nation? Ask the organizers at Pine Tree Curling Club in Portland. They scheduled four “learn to curl” sessions for March and April, and sold them out before the Olympics started. They added another one and sold it out in 24 hours. They’re looking to add more, so you can check their website. All you need is a clean pair of spare shoes for the ice; the rock and sweepers are provided. The club’s classes are usually $35 for three hours. You can also come and watch the regular club members doing their thing on Wednesday nights at the William B. Troubh Ice Arena in Portland, starting at 9:10 p.m.
Or you can find about joining a club for a whole season, including the Pine Tree Curling Club, the Belfast Curling Club or the Lewiston Curling Club. At the Pine Tree Curling Club, you can sign up to be a fill-in player. So if a regular club member can’t make it, you can take their place for that one night. The cost is $20, and it’s a good way to get a taste of the sport.
THE NEED FOR SPEED
Speed skaters are fast enough, but those on the short track seem even speedier. They get around that little oval once and then, whoosh, here they come again!
The Great Atlantic Speedskating Club at Family Ice Center in Falmouth bills itself as Maine’s only short-track speed skating club. And because of the Olympics, they’re having a Try Speedskating event Sunday from 10 to 11:30 a.m. It’s $20 for adults and $15 for 18 and under, including the skate rental. Helmets, gloves and socks that cover the ankle are required. Soft knee pads are highly recommended. People are encouraged to register and reserve skates by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The club also as an event coming up at the Family Ice Center, where people can come watch club members race, on March 22 at 10:30 a.m.
TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE
Shooting and skiing are two things people in Maine like to do for fun, so combining them must be twice as fun, right? That, or twice as hard.
The fun part is what’s emphasized at the annual Liberal Cup Biathlon at Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson. People are invited to compete in teams or alone. The event is named for its sponsor, a pub in Hallowell.
The event lets people of all ages try their hand at the biathlon, but with air-powered pellet guns instead of the traditional rifles. People will ski about a mile and then, when they get to a target area, volunteers will hand them a gun and they can shoot. Beginners will shoot twice and ski about a mile, but more experienced folks can ski longer and shoot more. Everybody gets safety lessons on how to use the air gun. The cost is $35 for adults and $10 for students. The event will be held March 4 from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and people are encouraged to register in advance. Last year, the event drew about 90 to 100 competitors. Most people bring their own skis, but a limited amount are available to rent for $10.
BORN TO LUGE
If you want to hear what it’s really like to compete in luge at the Olympics, flying down an icy track at 80 miles per hour or more, you’re in luck. Augusta native Julia Clukey began competing in luge at the age of 12 and represented the U.S. at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. She’s currently working on NBC’s coverage of the games, as one of the luge analysts.
But she’ll share her experience with fellow Mainers during a “Community Voices” talk on Wednesday organized by the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal newspapers. The free talk begins at 7 p.m. at the Ostrove Auditorium at Colby College in Waterville. Travis Lazarcyzk, a sports reporter for the two newspapers, will interview Clukey in front of the audience. Afterwards, there’ll be a chance to meet Clukey one on one. People are asked to register for the event in advance at voices.centralmaine.com
It’s not exactly luge, but the The Jack Williams Toboggan Chute at the Camden Snow Bowl is pretty close. The toboggan chute dates back to the 1930s, when the Camden Snow Bowl ski area was built, largely by volunteers, on land provided by the town. The chute was rebuilt in the early 1990s and has become home to the annual U.S. National Toboggan Championships, sort of a competition but mostly a lot of fun.
But people can take rides on the 400-foot chute on winter weekends and this week, during February school vacation, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., weather permitting.
It’s $5 per person, per hour. You can use one of their toboggans or bring one – 17- to 20-inches wide and 6- to 12-feet long. Helmets are strongly encouraged.
But if you’ve been watching the luge and skeleton events at the Olympics, you won’t need much encouragement.