There are several uncertainties when it comes to the annual Bonspiel on the Lake. Will the conditions be suitable for ice building? Will the weather cooperate? And just how many years has this event run for anyway (various sources peg the event somewhere on the 35 year mark, give or take a few). What is certain, however, is the volume of fun to be had at the most unique curling event of the season. Everyone, from the amateur to the pro and from young to old, can be seen grinning from ear to ear as they lead, sweep and shout their way through the three-day event.
The 35th’ish Bonspiel on the Lake takes place January 18-20. If you have never wandered down to the shores of Kinsmen Beach to watch, you are missing out on a spectacle. Teams often suit up in matching outfits or funny costumes. The nearby cook shack supplies fresh hot hamburgers, the smell tantalizing tastebuds over the ice. As dusk turns to nightfall, strings of lights provide a canopy of magic. And the sense of camaraderie and mirth sprinkles the atmosphere as players revel in the joy of the game.
Curling club president Rick Lyuendyk says while some teams approach the bonspiel with a competitive spirit, others come just for fun. One of the great features of this bonspiel is it brings the pros and less-than-pros together.
“It evens the playing field,” he says. “It takes awhile to figure out what a sheet of ice is doing.”
Judy Dow, one of the organizers, agrees.
“The lake is a really great equalizer,” she says. “You could be a top notch curler and not figure out the ice. It humbles anyone, and anyone can win.”
There are 64 teams registered (the max number), coming from local curlers, across B.C. and Alberta, and even from as far away as Seattle. Ms. Dow says many of the same teams come back year after year, and there is always a waiting list.
“It’s like a homecoming,” she describes.
While there are many who come just for fun, there is incentive to take it seriously, with beautiful handcrafted Bavin glass curling rock prizes for the top team in each division, and prizes for the top 16. Each team is guaranteed four curling games, and entry fee includes a dinner and dance Saturday, January 19th at the Columbia Valley Centre. There are still some tickets available for the dinner and dance; call the curling centre to purchase.
To volunteer, buy tickets for the dinner and dance, or for other questions, call the Invermere District Curling Club at 250-342-3315.
Making the ice
Perry Horning is Mr. Ice Master. For 33 years, he has poured his energy into creating the playing surface for the annual event.
“It’s 100 per cent weather dependent. The ice condition, snow, rain – all those kinds of things – come into play,” he explains. “Even if it’s too cold we can’t make ice because we can’t flood it.”
Ideal temperatures to build the ice are between 0 and -10 degrees. And even after the ice is made, they have to monitor it. If it snows, it needs to be shovelled off quickly so it doesn’t mess up the ice. If it’s too warm, puddles cause problems such as during last year’s ice prep. They cut pockets in the low ice and used sump pumps to pump the water out, which worked like a charm, Mr. Horning reports.
“You get a bunch of minds together and everyone works together as a team and we get quite creative at times,” he reports.
Mr. Horning, a B.C. wildfire fighter by trade, says there are actually a lot of similarities between fighting fires and building the curling surface on Lake Windermere.
“Everything is constantly changing, and you have to be able to respond,” he comments.
Mr. Horning is not too worried yet about the warmer than average temperatures, choosing to remain optimistic that the ice will be solid enough by bonspiel weekend. If it isn’t, they have a contingency plan (moving the bonspiel indoors).
He estimates somewhere in the range of 500 total volunteer hours are required to put on the annual event, including building the rink, putting up the boards, setting up the cook shack and coordinating the teams.
Mr. Horning says he is more than happy to let someone else take the lead on ice making any time now, and can show him or her all the techniques and tricks he’s learned over the last three decades of ice making. But, at the end of the day, he is glad the job is getting done so the tournament – the curling club’s biggest annual fundraiser- can continue.
“The thing I get out of it is watching everyone have so much fun. It’s a lot of sportsmanship, and everyone has a good time. That’s enough payment for me.”