The Case of the Reversing Ice

Golf and curling stand alone in the importance of the understanding of the playing surface and its relationship to performance. Golfers, serious golfers had better understand the basics of turf management if they are to perform satisfactorily. Curlers, serious curlers also need to understand that their playing surface, as it’s prepared and maintained also plays a significant role in the performance of the team.

Ice is alive! It’s not an inanimate object! It changes due to a dizzying array of factors and I don’t purport to sit here as the ice expert by any stretch of the imagination but that said, one of the first things I do when I enter a curling facility is seek out the ice technician. I sometimes  refer to them as ice “magicians” as given the physical environment in which they must work on occasion, that’s exactly their role.

Making and maintaining good curling ice is not an accident. You need to know what you’re doing but more than that, a good ice technician should have as much passion for the craft as the athlete has for his/her performance!

I’m constantly asking the best ice techs in the business the same question. “Tell me what I need to relay to the athletes about ice to improve their performance.” I don’t need to know all the technical details, although they do personally interest me. I want to know what I need to know from a coaching perspective. OK, with that preamble out of the way, on to the case of the reversing ice.

When a sheet of ice is prepared for play in a curling facility, it’s a very, very different situation for the than for the ice tech in a venue for ice upon which you see elite teams play. In an upcoming post I’ll deal with those differences. I hope the information I provide will enhance your viewing of the events as we get into The Season of Champions, Slams, Skins etc.

At a curling facility the ice must be prepared for as many as four or five games played pretty much back-to-back. Therefore, durability is a factor in the preparation of the ice because those eight curlers that use the ice in game five would like to be able to play all the shots played by the eight who inhabited the ice for the first game of the day.

To create that durability the ice tech will put down a relatively coarse pebble which he/she may “nip” or “clip” or perhaps not. In any event, the ice will usually start somewhat slow (requiring more velocity for a stone to arrive at its prescribed location). After an end or two (or three) the ice inside the “four foot stripe” which is the  high traffic area, starts to “keen up” requiring less velocity for that same stone to arrive at its destination. Shots played outside the four foot stripe, since it’s the area of lesser traffic, is much more like the first and second ends in terms of speed therefore more velocity must be applied. Now, here’s where it gets interesting!

At some point in the game, especially in ten end contests, that high traffic area (4′ stripe) starts to really wear down. There are a number of terms used to describe the phenomenon (flat, fudge etc.). When the pebble wear gets to that stage, speed begins to revert more to the earlier ends of play, it slows down.

Now here’s the “kicker”. At that point, that outside ice that was “heavy” now will seem “quicker”. Actually of course, it’s changed very little if at all but relative to the ice in the centre of the sheet it’s now “fast”.

More draws played to the edge of the sheet late in the game miss through the house because the curler forgot that the ice reverses itself. Don’t get caught.

And before I leave you today, one last point. If you play in a game where the ice is cleaned during the 4th or 5th end break and you’re the lead of the team playing the first stone in the end after that break, be prepared for the ice to be quicker than when you left it before the break. Shooting statistics will confirm that more draws are missed in the ends following the break (especially by the leads) than in any other ends.