By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — It was very cold the night photographer Karen Bobotas went to the ice rink to photograph people who participate in the weekly kettle curling club.
Nevertheless, she said it wasn't cold enough to stop her from trying the sport and said she actually slid two kettles filled with cement down the nearly 45-yard ice court.
"It was so much fun, I'm going back to play," said Bobotas.
According to Herb Greene, the director of Gilford's Parks and Recreation Department, "kettle curling" has been an annual department offering for four years at the ice rink on Varney Point.
"It started in 2011 in its current form," Greene said, saying that there are about 16 regulars participants in this year's Thursday night town-sponsored event.
Last winter, which to many seemed like one of the coldest and longest in recent years, the program had about 24 regular attendees and was awarded with the New Hampshire Parks and Recreation Association Clarence B. "Willy" Shellnut Program award for excellence.
Curling at the Olympic level is a sport played with teams of four people who slide 44-pound granite stones down a sheet of ice to try to land them closest to the center of a concentric circle about 45 yards away. While two teams of four people each take turns sliding their stones, their teammates use brooms to create friction to try and direct the stone without touching it, or "curl" its path.
It is similar to shuffleboard, and one point is earned for the team who has the closest stone to the center. That team can garner an additional point for each stone closest to the center provided no opponent stones are closer. Each team member throws two stones per round or "end" and there are 10 "ends" to a match.
In Gilford, Greene said the basic rules are the same, but instead of granite stones, they use 2-quart tea kettles filled with cement that weigh about 16 to 17 pounds. Brooms come from the cheapest available site and the footwear – most in Gilford use crampons to keep from falling – is self-provided.
Greene said using tea kettles was his version of experiments he had seen from other parks and recreation departments. He said in Gilford, they originally started with gallon milk jugs filled with frozen water, but switched to tea kettles in 2011.
He said he shopped online for a particular type of tea kettle.
"For example, it couldn't have a flat bottom with a ridge," he said.
Once he found the perfect kettle, he ordered enough for two teams in two different colors. He said he didn't want to fill them with sand for fear the sand could spill and spoil the ice, so he filled them with cement. He said for a few years they had some problems with the handles breaking, but said the DPW was able to fix them to make them stronger.
The ice markings have evolved over the past few years as well. Greene said they started with ice paint but it often bled into other areas of the ice during warmer days. He said last year, they started using nylon mesh and flooding over it. He said it's worked better, but this year the ice conditions in general haven't been great.
Last year, the program was so successful, said Greene, that many of the regular participants donated some money so the department could buy two more sets of kettles and run two games at a time. He said the newer kettles are a little different from the older ones because the older model of kettle was no longer available.
Greene said the kettle curling program is an adult program. He guessed the age demographic to be from age 45 to early retirement, however the department has demonstration days for youths during school vacation week.
The cost to play is $2 per person per night and he said about half of his regulars are Gilford residents and half come from neighboring communities. Greene said the curling season usually ends at the end of February, but he's is willing to continue as long as the ice remains viable.
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