Olympic Curlers at the Coliseum: Do You Have the Stones to Cheer on USA Curling?

Catie Cheshire
The Denver Curling Club sports many national championship banners.
The Denver Coliseum has traded cow patties and lassos for hog lines and ice to host the USA Curling Men’s and Women’s National Championships from February 5 to 11.

“The Stock Show ended on Sunday, they cleaned up, and we were starting already on Friday and Saturday to do a really quick turnaround,” says Aaron Kaylor, director of events for USA Curling.

Colorado has hosted the USA Curling National Championships before — Colorado Springs hosted the Men’s National Championships in 1973 and 1983, and Broomfield hosted the Men’s and Women’s National Championships in 2009 — but this is the City of Denver's first time on the sheets (a curling sheet is a rectangular area of ice, by the way).

Curling in the greater Denver area is strong, says Nancy Maule, vice president of events for the Denver Curling Club. “It's really exciting to be involved in a sport that currently, you can go to a restaurant and the servers say, ‘Oh, my gosh, are you part of that club that's on Sixth Avenue?'” she continues.

The Denver Curling Club has been around since 1965 and moved into its West Seventh Avenue location in Golden in 2014. The nonprofit organization is volunteer-run, and Maule says the club doesn't always have enough time or volunteers to meet the high demand of those who want to try the sport.

Meanwhile, a newer curling club, Rock Creek Curling, opened in Lafayette in 2021 and will field a team in this year’s national championship. Team Sobering includes Darryl Sobering, Alec Celecki, DJ Johnson, Josh Chetwynd and Sean Stevinson, who owns Rock Creek Curling. Johnson doesn’t live in Colorado anymore, but the others are all local.

Rock Creek Curling is also the host of the U18 National Championships through 2026. In the 2023 iteration of that competition, the Colorado boys' team took fourth place, and the girls placed fifth.

“We have a very active junior program,” Maule says. “Probably one of the strongest in the country, I would say. And it's just been getting better and better every year, and that’s really due to the support of all the members helping juniors get better.”

USA Curling is the national governing body for curling in the United States and is a member of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee. It oversees curling from the grassroots up through the internationally competitive teams, running eleven different national championships for various age groups. Those that will compete in Denver are the top adult teams and qualified by earning points at tournaments throughout the season.

Curling often competes with hockey for space, Kaylor explains, so the Coliseum was a good venue for the championships because it doesn’t have a hockey tenant and it had a wide window of availability once the National Western Stock Show wrapped up.

“We do an open bid process for this event every year, and it ended up in Denver because of a lot of efforts and input from the Denver Sports Commission,” Kaylor explains. “They were interested in hosting the event and reached out to me about it and, obviously, had some contacts with the venue, had contacts in the city, and had some great money that they were able to help put toward the event.”

The Denver Sports Commission is the arm of Visit Denver dedicated to bringing high-profile sporting events to the city. Visit Denver did not return a request for comment.

Maule herself will attend the USA Curling Senior National Championships, which are for athletes fifty and up, in March. The community is small and tight-knit, she adds, but it's always looking to welcome more people into the fold.

Attending one of the days of the championships in the upcoming week is a great place to start learning about the sport — and you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy the fun.

“You'll be amazed at the level of athleticism,” Maule says.

A curling game consists of a set number of ends, in which each member of the two four-person teams throws a stone twice. In each end, only one team scores. The scoring team is the one that gets a stone closest to the center of the target on the ice, called the house. The center is called the button, which sits at the intersection of the center line and the tee line, and two of what are called "hog lines" are drawn 21 feet from the center of the tee line.

click to enlarge
Who knew? Curling stones are made of granite.
Catie Cheshire

The team with its stone closest to the center of the button gets one point, plus an additional point each of its stones that is closer to the center than those of the other team. At the conclusion of the ends, the team with the most points wins.

As one teammate throws the stone, other teammates sweep the ice in front of the stone to change the distance the stone travels or the direction it curls.

“People ask all the time, well, you sweep to make it go faster?” Maule says. “No, you're not doing that. You're sweeping to help it go farther. You're flattening that pebble — that little orange-peel texture — creating friction to create a path for that rock to continue on.”

Teams are named after their captains, who are called skips. They call the shots, but with a lot of discussion and input from their teammates. Shouting is part of the game, and teams are often communicating about when to sweep and why.

It takes a minimum of five days to install curling ice from scratch, beginning with a base layer and building from there to achieve the orange-peel-like texture needed for the sport.

“The hockey ice doesn't get the love and attention that this ice does,” Maule says. “That has everything to do with how the rock actually curls.”

Part of the strategy is figuring out how to manipulate the texture of the ice, which is laid using a brass nozzle that's similar to a shower head and creates a pebbled texture on top of the ice.

That nozzle creates bumps the shape of Hershey’s kisses, so the final step is to scrape off the tips of the bumps. Depending how that is done, it changes the strategy for throwers because of differences in texture, and so the process is kept secret.

“In the Coliseum, you'll be able to hear the skips talking to their teammates and really hearing what their strategy decision is based on,” Maule says.

The Denver Curling Club also will have volunteers in the stands called curling gurus who will answer questions for spectators who aren’t familiar with the game.

“I probably could walk around and know exactly who is just there to spectate and really doesn't know anything about curling, because I'll probably see a lot of familiar faces, and then with the unfamiliar ones, I could just say, ‘Hey, do you have questions?’” Maule says. “It's gonna be pretty easy to be sociable and help people.”

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Devices like this create the ice texture for curling.
Catie Cheshire

In addition, both of the teams that competed in the 2022 Beijing Olympics will compete at this event, so it’s a chance to see the curling elite. Team Peterson is the Olympic team on the women’s side, and Team Shuster is the Olympic team on the men’s side.

Team Shuster is headed up by John Shuster, who is rather prolific in the sport as a five-time Olympian, including gold and bronze medal wins. Maule says he has a cousin in Littleton and sometimes drops into the Denver Curling Club when he’s in town.

But Maule predicts a challenge for Team Shuster at this year’s championship in the form of Team Dropkin, headed up by Korey Dropkin

“Korey is just really on fire, and he's got Shuster's number,” she says.

A women’s team from Denver took home the USA Curling title in 1990, 1993 and 1994. This year, there isn’t a dedicated women’s team from Denver, but Clare Moores, a member of the Denver Curling Club, will play on Team McMakin.

On the women’s side, Team Peterson, Team Strouse and Team Anderson are all strong competitors, with Maule saying that a lot of the teams are really good. Moores thinks Team McMakin has a chance.

“We've got nothing but potential, and for being in our first year together, we're already making moves and disrupting a little bit, which is fun,” Moores says.

There’s far more of a concentration at the top of the men’s field than the women’s, though Maule also expects Colorado’s Team Sobering to handle themselves well. Additionally, Lance Wheeler, Moores’s husband and a Denver Curling Club member, will compete on Team Dunnam.

The opening ceremony and first draw will start at 5:30 p.m. on February 5. From February 6 through 9, there will be multiple rounds of competition, including rounds starting at 7 p.m. On February 10, the semifinals are at 7 p.m., and on February 11, the men’s championship will start at noon and the women’s at 4 p.m. All information can be found on the USA Curling website.

Those interested in rooting on their fellow Coloradans can buy tickets online or at the door. Kids under five are welcome, and admitted for free.

“The thing with curling, too, is you don't need people to be super quiet. It’s a very active spectator sport,” Maule says. “We want you cheering."