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Originally published Saturday, June 28, 2014 at 6:03 AM

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Curling club delivers unlikely oasis in Arizona summer

With Phoenix in the midst of a long string of beastly hot days, residents are looking for any way to beat the heat. Their newest option is the Coyotes Curling Club, recently opened, where members can walk out of a 106-degree evening and onto a sheet of ice.


The New York Times

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TEMPE, Ariz. — As the temperature dipped to a stultifying 106 degrees one recent evening, members of the Coyotes Curling Club showed up at their clubhouse in a factory district near the airport ready to unwind, work out and cool off.

Inside, they changed into track suits, put on shoes with Teflon soles and made their way onto the ice, where the air temperature was an invigorating 42 degrees, grabbed their sweepers and started sliding — or rather, in curling lingo, delivering — 42-pound Scottish granite stones down the ice.

“It’s weird packing a jacket, gloves and warm pants to do something, but it’s refreshing to curl,” said Darryl Horsman, the club’s vice president, who by day works for U-Haul. “It’s a 60-degree drop.”

With Phoenix and the surrounding valley in the midst of a long string of beastly hot days, residents are looking for any way to beat the heat. Restaurants sprinkle water on patrons with misters, public pools stay open late and people work from home to avoid commuting in the blazing sun.

This modest club can be added to the list. Curling is a winter sport and most clubs shut down for the summer when their members return to golf courses, tennis courts and softball fields.

But the Coyotes Curling Club opened its own facility in March and needs to recoup some of the $650,000 it invested to lease the 30,000-square-foot building and convert it from its previous use, by a company that made the fuzz for tennis balls. Previously, the curlers had been cadging time at a hockey rink in Scottsdale, which was far from ideal.

The construction, which included installing a powerful dehumidifier and a specially designed chiller to handle the extreme heat, left the club $70,000 in the red. So it is staying open this summer, despite the brutal heat, to bring in more fees from competitive league nights, learn-to-curl classes and corporate team-building events.

“In a perfect world, we’d like to shut down in July and August, but we’re new and need to get people in,” Horsman said.

By staying open during the hottest time of the year, the club has turned into an oasis for the teams of curlers who earlier this month took to the sheets, or 146-foot-long lanes of ice where stones are delivered.

The chilly environs and the extra hours — the club is open six days a week — have helped to boost membership by 70 percent, to 135. Horsman said he hopes the club will have 300 members in a year. The new facility will also allow the club to hold more tournaments, or bonspiels, and welcome out-of-town curlers.

The game, often compared to chess on ice, is attractive to people of many ages because the cost of entry is low and the rules are relatively simple. Teams of four curlers slide stones down a rectangle of ice called a sheet, hoping to land them in concentric circles embedded at the other end or to knock the other team’s stones out of the circles. Two teammates sweep the ice to alter the direction and speed of the stones.

Curling is best known as a Canadian sport, but it has made inroads in the United States in recent years thanks to its prominence in the Olympics. The number of U.S. curlers has jumped 50 percent in the past decade and clubs have popped up in cities across the country,according to USA Curling, the national governing body.

One of the fastest-growing clubs, and perhaps one of the most incongruous, is here in the desert, where temperatures often top 110 degrees in the afternoons in June.

Like many U.S. clubs, the Coyotes Curling Club was started by transplants from Canada who yearned to play a sport they grew up with back home. For 11 years, Horsman, who is from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and his compatriots rented space on Saturday nights at the Ice Den, a rink where the Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL practice.

But recruiting new curlers was tough because ice time was limited and because curling in a hockey rink is the equivalent of putting golf balls on a backyard lawn: The ice is uneven, which makes it difficult to slide the stone with any precision.

“People think ice is ice, but curling on arena ice is hard because there are a lot of divots,” said Lindsay Estabrooks, a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, who moved to Arizona and joined the club in 2010.

Starting two years ago, Estabrooks, Horsman and other members of the club raised the money for their own building. To retrofit the former factory, they had to educate building inspectors about curling. Even so, the curlers say, the city of Tempe forced the club to buy a more powerful dehumidifier than was needed, arguing that the ice was big enough to hold many more skaters than the 32 people — eight teams of four — that the club planned to put on it. The machine cost the club an extra $20,000 and melted the ice on one side, requiring the curlers to put a hood over its vent so it wouldn’t blow directly on the ice.

To save money, club members laidnearly 5 miles of tubing that carries coolant to maintain the ice at 22 degrees. Adjacent to the ice is a so-called warm room where the spectators sit; Kay Sugahara, a well-known curler from New York, donated video cameras and flat-panel screens so people can better see the games from it.

Chuck Hasslacher, a longtime club member who sells hot tubs for a living, eagerly showed off photos on his cellphone of the project, which was completed this year. He also bought one of the ten $10,000, 10-year bonds that pay 5 percent interest that were sold to help finance the construction.

In the warm room, where it is about 70 degrees, club members share beers and watch the action through plate-glass windows. The wooden spools that held the tubing now serve as tables where, as per tradition, winners buy beverages for the losers.

As curlers from the first of the evening’s two sessions made their way into the warm room, they peeled off hoodies and long-sleeved shirts to reveal sweat-drenched undershirts. Curlers typically walk 3 to 4 miles during a game, but the benefits of that exercise may be partly offset by the postgame beverages.



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