Feb 11, 2024 - News

New Twin Cities curling clubs are filling fast and ice time is getting harder to find

Two players stand on a curling rink — a white sheet of ice with bullseye-shaped targets of red rings, with special grey curling stones with yellow and red tops. The players are in conversation and holding curling brooms, which have flat heads and no bristles.

Jason Botterill (right) speaks with teammate Jodie Skyberg during a game at Lakeville's Dakota Curling Club. Photo: Kyle Stokes/Axios

Curling in the Twin Cities has grown so popular in the past decade that the sport's stewards now struggle to find enough ice time for everyone who's interested.

The big picture: Even though four new rinks have opened here since 2011, the number of curlers in metro-area clubs has tripled — from around 1,000 to 3,500.

  • The area's seven clubs are now either full or close to it, says Minnesota Curling Association president Lisa Rudolph. "We need more ice," she told Axios.

Why it matters: Minnesota is a hotbed for the sport, whose players slide stones down a floor of ice, furiously sweeping ahead of them with brooms.

What they're saying: "There's a horizon we can see where capacity in the clubs is going to be a limiting factor for the sport's continued growth in the Twin Cities," says Jason Botterill, board president of Lakeville's Dakota Curling Club.

  • Dakota used hockey ice until opening one of the metro's newest curling facilities in 2017. The club is now 85-90% full, Botterill says.

Yes, but: Rudolph doesn't want to make searching for an open spot sound "futile," saying plenty of ways remain for the curling-curious to get involved.

State of the sport: At the start of this boom, the historic St. Paul Curling Club was the metro's only dedicated facility.

A curling stone with a red handle sits on a white sheet of ice with players' feet in the background.
Photo: Kyle Stokes/Axios

Zoom in: The curling boom helped draw Guy and Jeanine Perera back into the sport. When they moved down to the Twin Cities from Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 2000, there was no space at the St. Paul club.

  • They got back into it after Dakota opened its rink in 2017. "Interest in curling in the U.S. is really ramping up," Guy says — with the authority of a Canadian.

Driving the trend: Devotees insist curling is also fun, easy to learn and accessible.

  • "It's a lifetime sport," says Maureen Guay of the St. Paul Bonnie Spielers, a women's curling team. "You can curl into your 80s." Many clubs can accommodate people using wheelchairs or with bad backs or knees.
  • It's a "relaxed" game, says Alyssa Hahn, 17, who has competed at the U.S. Junior Curling National Championships. Even at that level, "we try to lift each other up instead of breaking each other down."
  • Clubs also often have a bar, and the post-game beer is a tradition, explains St. Croix Curling Club co-founder Al Taylor. "You socialize for probably as long as you're out there curling."
  • The Winter Olympics usually bring a new wave of interest in the sport every four years. (This was especially true in 2018, when some pretty normal-looking dudes from Duluth won gold in dramatic fashion.)

Of note: The clubs are nonprofits and largely run by volunteers. Rudolph and Botterill both have day jobs. Taylor is a retired 3M scientist but is "still curling at 88."

What we're watching: Taylor's raising some hope for easing the Twin Cities' ice-time crunch. His St. Croix club — which uses hockey ice now — has drawn up plans for a new rink, probably south of Stillwater in St. Mary's Point.

  • The club's officers first need to raise at least $5.5 million, but if they do, Taylor has no doubt curlers will come. "I could fill this club up in just no time," he said.
A curler throws a stone down a curling rink towards a target located away from the camera, with two sweepers running on either side of her.
Alyssa Hahn (center) throws a stone at the Dakota Curling Club as teammates Chris Duff and Jodie Skyberg prepare to sweep. Photo: Kyle Stokes/Axios

Tips for new curlers

📖 First, brush up (zing!) on some basic rules. Two teams of four players compete to slide stones down a 150-foot path toward the center of a bullseye-shaped target called "the house."

  • Each team "throws" (not literally) eight stones. Points are won for each stone that is closer than the opponents' stones to the center of the house — aka the "button."

🍎 Look for beginner classes. They often fill quickly but can take you "from zero to curler in two hours," Rudolph says. A session typically costs $20-$40.

🧹 Don't worry about equipment. Clubs provide the brooms, stones and special Teflon covers that slip onto your shoes and allow you to glide on ice.

👟 But bring clean shoes! Clubs don't want you tracking road salt onto their ice. Sand or dirt can also affect the trajectory of a curling stone.

🙋‍♂️ Becoming a member. If you're ready to take the leap, join a club as a team or a solo member — but if space is limited, Rudolph recommends joining as a substitute: "It's a good way to meet more people!" Dues plus league fees generally total $300-$400 a year.

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