St Gallen’s outdoor arena offers chance to discover curling roots

  • Outdoor curling at the Eissportzentrum Lerchenfeld Photos: © WCF / Céline Stucki

There are many beautiful sights to behold in the Alpine town of Arosa – a large frozen lake sitting prominently in the town centre, the Swiss buildings that stand quaintly on the main street. But, one of the most spectacular views is the outdoor curling rink sitting in front of an imposing snow-topped mountain overlooking all below it.

The curling clubhouse in this charming Graubünden town is adorned with the hallmarks of a traditional curling club, including a Swiss cowbell propped up in the office. What is most striking about Arosa’s curlers is their club colours, a vivid yellow and blue, used not only for the houses on the pristine ice sheets, but also in their cosy team sweaters that also have the town’s name emblazoned across the chest.

Never seen a more beautiful place. 🏔🥌🇨🇭 || #arosa #alps #curling #switzerland

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In the club office, a proud Guinness World Book of Records certificate sits on the wall, commemorating the world’s largest curling stone, made out of snow.

As our five gentleman hosts get started – Jurg Denneberg, Oskar Liemgruber, Beat Murgeli, Jörg Widner, Beat Maissen – it is clear they are not just members of the club, but friends, and their practice match is nothing more than a casual half an hour, similar to a kick-about in football fields across the world.

Beat explains just what is so different about outdoor curling – compared to the popular indoor version we see in the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. He says, “the challenge to cope with the changing circumstances makes it exciting – to play in the sun and the friendship between the teams on and off the ice. That is the true Spirit of Curling.”

Beat is one of 150 members of the Arosa Curling Club, a hugely impressive number considering only 25 of them actually live in the town. The picturesque, yet slow and twisting drive up the peak clearly doesn’t put anyone off from neighbouring towns.

Beat tells me, “what is great about Arosa is it has an active club life and attractive tournaments in beautiful nature. It’s a great place for curling and all kinds of sport.”

Other members talk about previous championships, rattling off former Swiss players and the like. It’s clearly apparent that curling is big business, not just in Arosa, but across the whole of Switzerland, from Bern to Basel.

But, are people still engaging with outdoor curling in Switzerland?
There has certainly been no lack of effort in trying at the Eissensportzentrum Lerchenfeld during the Le Gruyère AOP European Curling Championships 2017.

A five-sheet outdoor rink has been set up outside the arena and many are trying their hand at the sport. As the smell of bratwurst and gluwine waft through the air, people are setting down their glasses and strapping safety helmets on.

Event organiser Paddy Kaeser says, “we spoke with the venue here as there is normally an outdoor skating rink. The goal is to give people the chance to join curling clubs here in St Gallen and to promote the sport. The instructors are all from local clubs, which means they are able to invite those participating to classes.”

A group of school children makes their way onto the ice and amongst the fevered excitement, one small girl shines out among all the fun. And, it isn’t just school children who are taking to the ice. It’s company employees too. Whereas traditionally golf may be a typical team bonding sport for workers, curling is setting a precedent in Switzerland.

Henri, one of the curling instructors, explains, “we hope that many beginners will try curling this week. In the morning, local school children take to the ice. In the afternoon, we have those from employers. I’ve been curling for 15 years and it’s nice to see others trying their hand at it.”

Henri leaves, to assist a boy, around ten years old, who is about to push off the hack. He slides down the ice and with that, the next generation of curlers begins.

World Curling TV continued this story with a broad look at outdoor curling in Switzerland.
To keep up-to-date with all the action from these championships follow us on Twitter, Instagram (@worldcurling) and Facebook (/WorldCurlingFederation) and use the hashtags: #ECC2017 #curling

by Kristian Ross, sport media trainee