Last Updated on March 16, 2021 by Jeremy
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Curling is one of those sports we've always wanted to try, but never really had the chance. We've tried toned-down variants of the sport in the past at places like Sliders Curling (a seasonal rink outside of Lumberjaxes in Millvale), but when it came to playing via proper rules, well, we never had the opportunity.
Shortly after trying the variant out at Sliders, we heard that the Pittsburgh Curling Club was opening up a new, dedicated curling facility in McKees Rocks and would offer classes for non-members who want to get into the sport.
The facility opened up in early 2020 and we obviously all know what happened just a few weeks later. As such, it wasn't until early 2021 that we got to make it into the facility to try out the sport with their Level 1 Intro to Curling Class.
Although we are not the most athletic of people, we have to say, curling is a blast.
What to Expect from Pittsburgh Curling Club's Level 1 Class
The Level 1 class from the Pittsburgh Curling Club is broken up into three distinct lessons. The first is watching a video tutorial about the sport of curling, ice prep techniques, safety concerns, and getting some verbal instructions about what you are about to do (from the warmth of their reception area). The second is practicing the techniques on the ice including form, hurling the stone, and sweeping. The final element is a three-round game to put everything you learned into practice.
You will quickly come to learn that curling is much more involved than it looks watching the Olympics.
During the class, you learn the posture you have to take to hurl the stone, how you work with your skip (captain on the other end of the ice giving instructions) on how to angle your body and curl the stone, how to launch yourself down the ice (with an oh-so-fun teflon shoe), how to sweep (a separate role), and of course how to be a skip (a third role).
After my first attempt to hurl the stone down the ice, I realized that there were no fewer than six things you have to do all within the span of about one second in order to correctly launch the stone. All this must be accomplished while trying to stay upright yourself. From there, the sweepers put all their body weight onto the ice to keep the stone going to its intended target (a serious upper body workout) and the skip shouts commands to orchestrate it all from a distance.
The phrase “chess on ice” was thrown around when describing all of this, and in a way it is an apt comparison.
In the instruction portion, I'd go as far as saying it is almost too much information to take in, and you really need to play a mock game in order to tie it all together (just like chess). Thankfully, that is what the last hour of the class is all about!
During the game portion, you get to participate in a three-round match where all three roles are functioning at the same time. This is setup so you, naturally, rotate into each of them for a taste of what they're like. I started out first hurling the stones, then sweeping, and then finally as the skip. Surprisingly, we realized we all learned a great deal as both teams got points and really improved on form in such a short amount of time!
I have to admit that it wasn't until I took on the role as skip that I understood what the commands they were telling me meant, and I walked away at the end having only just connected all the dots since it was my last role. Unfortunately, our time was over at that point but I am ready to go to a Level 2 class to put it to good practice in the future. (Angie was, on the other hand, a natural.)
Things to Know About Curling in Pittsburgh
There are a few things you may want to keep in mind before you visit the Pittsburgh Curling Club for a class.
At this time, lessons for non-members only occur on select days of the week with advanced registration. Second, teams are split into groups of about 6-8, so you may be curling with people you haven't met. We were lucky to go with friends (six total) and had an entire lane to ourselves.
Next up is that you are asked to bring an extra pair of clean shoes to change into- gotta keep the rink dirt-free! Although they give you shoe covers to walk on the ice with, clean shoes are still a must so you may need to plan to wash a pair. Keep in mind you may want good tread too, so think gym shoes only.
From there, you should keep in mind that the rink part of the facility is kept at around 40 degrees, so be sure to wear layers (and don't forget gloves). You will get cold.
Finally, a number of members of the club help lead the class- by my count we had about 12 to 15 total instructors. The rink here has four curling lanes, and our lesson was almost completely booked (about 24 students). This amounted to roughly three instructors per lane (six to eight students each) which meant we could have one instructor for heaving the stones, one for sweeping, and one for skipping- it really helped.
Overall, whether you've been curling before or have wanted to give it a try after watching the Olympics, we highly recommend rounding up a bunch of friends and scheduling a lesson!
The Pittsburgh Curling Club is located at 491 McCoy Road in McKees Rocks, PA.