If It’s Dirty Ice You Want…

March, 2008 Revised Feb. 2013

The end of the year is upon us and I really can’t believe it.  For me personally, this season has been a strange one for a lot of reasons.  I’ve had a lot of new things happen for me this year and I’ve learned a lot from those experiences.  I’m also discovering that I do have some readers out there which is encouraging!  It is in fact thanks to one of those readers (I won’t call them fans…yet…) that I write on this particular topic for what might be my final article of the year.  Yes, this is my first request and I’m so very happy to be able to do it.

This season marks my 25th year in curling.  Likely that seems like a very long time to some of you while to others maybe not so long.  In any event, there are two fundamental things that have changed the game more than anything else in that time period.  Those are: 1) advances in equipment (shoes and brushes in particular) and 2) a vast improvement in ice conditions.  Even at the club level, ice conditions are light years ahead of where they used to be.  When I started playing, ice making was very much a “black art” with each ice maker guarding their secrets tightly.  Much of their success was based on trial and error and when they found that perfect combination of conditions (or IF they found them…) they would hang on to them for dear life.  People would see them as “experts” with some mysterious knowledge.  And they did have mysterious knowledge that was usually a product of a lot of long hours trying one thing after another to get it right.  As time has passed a more scientific approach has come to the “black art”.  Ice makers now have a much better understanding of the actual science behind freezing water and it’s no where near as simple as I make it sound.  Because there is a better understanding, ice makers don’t require as much trial and error to get things right.  Ice makers will still tell you that you have to get to know the building because no matter what, every curling club is different.  Still, there is more science behind getting the ice right now than there used to be.  Ice conditions improve…

But of course, I’m not going to talk about how to make ice.  I don’t know how to make ice.  What I do know, is that all too often the care and effort that goes into making ice is completely negated by how curlers treat the playing surface.  This article is therefore a little bit about equipment and a little bit about you as a player and how you can help maintain the ice during games.

First of all and this is something you should all know, you have to make sure your equipment is in good repair at all times.  The worst offender of equipment are grippers and slip on anti-sliders.  Most grippers are made from a crepe rubber because it really does grip the ice pretty well.  It can do this because it is fairly soft.  Soft however means that it wears fairly quickly especially when you’re stepping on a harder rubber repeatedly, like say, oh I don’t know, a hack?!?  You will notice a wear pattern on your crepe rubber gripper over time.  One issue with crepe rubber is not only that it wears fairly quickly, its also that once it starts to wear it then wears more quickly.  Another issue with the crepe rubber is the way it wears.  Typically it comes apart in very little bits.  You don’t generally see big chunks of material coming loose.  Small little bits of rubber come off the shoe gradually and more often once the wearing really sets in.  The majority of material that USED to be part of your shoe is now somewhere on the playing surface.  Tiny little bits of rubber, whose main purpose is to GRIP, are now in the path of your curling stones.  Sometimes sweepers catch this but sometimes not.  Keeping your gripper in good repair is essential to keeping a good playing surface intact.

How do you maintain this soft rubber sole?  Well, using the shoe cleaners at the door of your curling club is a start.  These are generally rotating brushes that clear away loose dirt from your shoes.  They also will help pull off any loose bits of rubber that might otherwise end up in front of your skips draw to the four foot for the win…  You should always clean your shoes with these devices prior to stepping on the ice.  Keep an eye on any larger chunks of material that are coming off as well.  Sometimes a trim with scissors is required.  When it becomes clear that repair jobs are no longer keeping up to the wear then it’s time to replace the gripper.  Many curling equipment shops will remove the old gripper for you and replace it with something fresh.  This is something that should be done annually at a minimum.

Anti sliders also break down in similar ways to grippers.  They are generally made from a different type of rubber but it is still a soft flexible material.  Most of the wear occurs because these slip ons are constantly being pulled on and off shoes.  I have seen some of these things that are literally breaking into pieces.  That’s simply not a good thing to have on your precise curling surface.  Both shoes should be regularly inspected for loose material and general disrepair.  Even your slider foot shoe will wear and potentially damage the ice surface.  Be especially aware of any sharp edges on your slider foot that might introduce scratching of the surface.

Beyond your shoes, the next biggest “dirt” culprit is brushes.  Synthetic heads accumulate this nasty black smudgy stuff from the ice.  Some of that is your gripper shedding unwanted granules of rubber and some of it is naturally occurring dust from wherever dust naturally occurs from.  The point is that if left unattended, the debris you caught with your broom will be recycled on to the curling surface only to find its way in front of a critical shot.  Your synthetic broom heads should be cleaned after every shot into a waste basket at the end of the sheet.  Don’t brush it on to the sheet next door and don’t simply brush it on to the back boards where everyone is standing.  That dirty material will transfer from the carpet on to someone’s shoes then back onto the ice completing the “dirt cycle” as it were.

Those rotating brushes at the entrance to the ice surface are ideal for taking a layer of dirt off your broom head.  They do an excellent job of removing grime, at least at the start of your game.  A small fingernail brush, something that will fit into your pocket, is an great tool to help you keep your brush clean during the game.

Synthetic brooms wear as well.  Eventually they become shiny and no amount of cleaning removes the buildup of dirt.  By the way, most synthetic broom heads can be effectively cleaned in your dishwasher.  Remove the head from your broom and put it face down on the top shelf of during a dishwashing cycle.  That will help recharge the head a little and will help remove the grimy build up.  If you get to the point where you see fuzz on the broom head then it needs to be replaced.  Again, broom heads should be replaced as often as required but they should never last you more than a year.  Brad Gushue’s team won’t keep broom heads more than 2 games…  There’s a joke in there about the broom heads lasting longer than front end players for that team but I like Brad so I’ll refrain…

Hair brooms have their own issues.  We’re all aware that similar to a large portion of the male population, when hair brushes age they start to lose their hair.  For brushes, this is a result of the glue that holds the hairs in place drying out.  The glue stops being effective at retaining the hair and you find clumps coming out.  An occasional brush through your hair brush with a fork will help remove loose hairs.  Never tug on loose hairs because that tends to loosen nearby hairs and can make the problem worse.  Hair brooms also pick up dust and fuzz from the ice.  If you look very closely at your hair broom you will find an accumulation of material near the base of the hair stalks.  This should be removed as carefully as possible so again you don’t tug out the hair.  Once the hair starts coming out on a regular basis then it’s time for a new brush head.  If it were only so easy for us guys…

Because brushes are made for picking up debris, players should be careful about how they handle the brushes when they are not on the ice surface.  How many times have you seen a player with the brush head down, on the carpet in the lounge?  This is a pet peeve of mine.  Please don’t do this.  Not enough players are cleaning their shoes before they go on the ice to play.  How many of you are cleaning your brushes before you go out there?  Fibers and debris from the lounge area get caught on your brush head easily when it’s face down the carpet.  Just hold your broom the other way around when you’re not on the ice.  It’s really not all that difficult and it goes a long way towards keeping the lounge junk in the lounge.

Brushes and shoes are not the only equipment that can introduce debris.  New curlers are always told to wear something warm when they are out on the ice.  Warm often means fuzzy.  When choosing your curling attire try to find something that isn’t wooly or that does not have the potential to shed on the ice.  This may sound silly but it is a real concern.  Take a look at the materials being used for curling clothing these days.  Most of it is polyester and non – fibrous.  The fuzzy stuff brings too much potential for debris.  Shave your sweater or wear something that isn’t going to shed.

Debris on the ice is only one type of “pick” you’ll experience.  The other type is from more semi-permanent marks made on the ice.  For any of you watching the Brier in the last two years you will be aware of the criticism directed towards John Morris.  John kneels down on the ice after every shot he throws.  Both he and Kevin Martin have said that this has no effect whatsoever on the ice but that doesn’t seem to be the consensus among those who play against them.

In my opinion any sort of kneeling or sitting  on the ice is bad.  The pebble, which is the actual running surface, is not very thick and is therefore very sensitive to wear and changes in temperature.  We have all seen ice where the pebble has broken down too quickly creating “fudge” or slow spots on the sheet.  I cannot believe that body heat applied to this surface does not have some melting affect on it.  Melting of that tiny raised pebble even slightly is going to affect it and that will change the conditions of the ice in that local area creating a “flat spot”.  These flat spots will look like a pick when the rock travels over them.  So, don’t kneel.  Don’t lay on your stomach.  If you drag your knee get off it as soon as you stop sliding.  Don’t leave your body on the ice, it’s going to make a mess.

As I mentioned, the issue here is the heat applied to curling surface and specifically the pebble.  Here is another issue related to that.  How many times at the club do you see a team walk out on the back boards, have a little chat, maybe shake hands then proceed immediately to their warm up slides?   Likely, this is pretty common.  Think about your shoes.  The bottoms of them are likely quite warm from being in a locker or your bag or from being worn up in the lounge for the last ½ hour.  When you step out on the ice those warm shoes start to melt the ice just a little.  Sliding right away means you’re melting the ice in what is likely the most crucial part of the entire sheet, the four foot area at the glass end!!

When you first get on the ice, slide up the side of the sheet to one end and back BEFORE you take your practice slide.  Another option is to stand behind the hack for 20 or 30 seconds just to give your slider a chance to cool down to the temperature of the ice surface.  If you do this before your practice slide then that four foot slide path at the home end won’t break down as quickly as it otherwise might and your sheet will be more consistent.  The icemaker will thank you as well.

A lot of care goes into maintaining a curling surface for six months of a year.  As players using that surface, there are a lot of things we can do to help maintain it.  We all want good ice to play on so there is no excuse for not taking care of our equipment or replacing worn out stuff.  A little consideration for the fact that our warm bodies affect the cold ice also goes a long way towards keeping things as good as they possibly can be.

Sean Turriff

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