The last full weekend in February marked two firsts in my curling odyssey: my first time playing outside California, and my first encounter with dedicated ice.
More about the trip later. The big highlight was ice meant only for curling, in a building designed for curling, put in by an ice team that knows curling.
In other words, flat, level and unmolested by skates.
The Appleton Curling Club is a four sheet club. The ice shed is just a couple of feet bigger than the ice sheet itself, the strip around the edges carpeted so it won't ruin your slider. It's a real luxury to be able to sit down and take the gripper off, then step to the ice and throw. Note to any arena curlers reading this: step from the carpeted service to the ice surface with your hack-foot, not your sliding foot.
The warm room at the street-end of the club has a viewing area (behind glass) with theater-style seating. TV monitors showed the houses at the far end. Behind this are tables and a decent sized kitchen to one side. Downstairs is a bar, as it should always be in a proper curling club. Windows in the bar area look out near ice-level.
It's the ice that makes a curling facility, and this is not arena ice.
Flat and level means the rocks travel much more predictable paths. You can count on the same travel on an in-turn or an out-turn.
I'm even told that good curlers on dedicated ice don't often signal which handle, because it's obvious -- they rarely need to play negative ice.
That said, I was a little bit surprised to see some of the same oddities on great ice that I see on Arena ice.
Scratches and imperfections (i.e. Zamboni lines) cause the rock to travel an "S" shaped pattern on Arena ice. I saw one rock make an "S" on dedicated ice -- and was amazed.
Flat and Level remains difficult because of frost heaves and even condensation dripping from the lights. They still get dirt on the ice from the players themselves, from their clothes, from equipment, you name it.
The major difference: those were the exceptions rather than the rule.
That makes dedicated ice easier to play.
One thing that wasn't surprising: put 32 people in a room playing vigorously, and the room temperature changes. Pebble beautifully put down still wears. That's the same.
Of course, the ice is the same ice for both teams, and figuring it out quickly is still key.
Someday I hope to play on dedicated ice on a regular basis. Until then, I look forward to my next visit.