Our media crew has been talking about going curling for more than a month. I don’t know what you and your coworkers sit around and chat about, but outside of hockey talk, there is a lot of discussion about press room dining and activities for off days in Canada.
This year, we decided to take on Canada’s second biggest sport – curling. Before the Islanders beat the Flames in overtime on Feb. 25, our crew visited the North Hill Curling Club the day before. Words cannot explain how much fun we had during the two hours we spent slipping, sliding and falling all over the ice.
We did our best to mimic the 70-to-85-year-old men that played actual games in the lanes next to us. At 11 AM on a Wednesday, the curling club was packed with senior citizens way more fit than most of my friends who are under 35. The secret to their happiness and feeling young? Curling. A sport many of them learned in school when it was commonplace to teach the sport in physical education classes around Alberta.
We took an hour lesson and I tried to soak up as much about the sport as I could. The main takeaway – get the 40 lb. “rock” into the middle of the bullseye “the button.” Our group was anxious to get right to the sweeping, but we had to work our way up to that. Each one of us took turns delivering the rock.
Once we could deliver the rock without totally face planting, we moved on to playing actual games. As you can tell, none of us are going on the curling pro tour anytime soon, but we sure had some good laughs.
After this experience, I will never watch curling the same ever again. It’s on TV all the time in Canada, and now has a House Hunters-like addictive quality. You put it on in the hotel room and the next thing you know, three hours have gone by.
Here are my MVP awards for our curling adventure:
Best Delivery: Szymon, Isles Flight Coordinator
Best Sweeper: Mike, MSG Graphics Coordinator
Best Skip (person who tells you how much to sweep): – Charlie, MSG Assistant Director
Sounds like a good trip so far, huh? Well, throw in an OT-winner (thanks to John Tavares and Josh Bailey) and another fun off day.
On Friday, I had the pleasure of riding up to Banff to ski for the day with some of the Islanders staff. Scott Boggs, the head equipment manager, helped organize the whole thing. He is what I like to call an expert skier with a fantastic sense of humor. I remember last season, Jiggs McDonald told me I had to go to Banff. The schedule didn’t allow for a trip then, so this year I wasn’t going to miss it.
Up to the mountains we went early Friday morning. We took an amazing gondola ride – about 15 minutes or 8,954 ft. up – to the heart of Sunshine Village. This is a serious ski resort. 115 runs. The first words out of my mouth when we got off the gondola, “So where’s the bunny hill?” I was partially joking, but not really. I was a college athlete and my parents never wanted me to break a leg, so I didn’t learn to ski until I was 25 years-old. I learned on icy Boyne Mountain, in what we Michiganders like to call “Up North.” Needless to say, the green runs in Banff are a little different.
After a few times plowing down the intermediate trail, I worked up the courage to take the “Angel Lift” to the top of the mountain. The views from the top were worth all of the anxiety I had about skiing down. You actually cross over into British Columbia at the top of the mountain and ski back down to the Alberta Province.
I didn’t fall once on my big 35-minute green run down to the village. I did though have to pull over at the intersection where the black diamond run crossed the trail for a hot second. A snowboarder about 17 years-old whizzed right by me screaming, “COME ON! YOU CAN DO IT!” So, I got back to work slowly weaving back and forth before I made it to the bottom. Since I avoided any major wipeouts, I considered that a sign I should stop while I was ahead. I grabbed a beer at the bottom of the mountain before the rest of our group skied down to meet me.
We made a quick stop in the picture perfect ski town of Banff before heading back to Calgary. I felt like a little kid that had just gone to Six Flags for the first time. Exhausted from worrying about the giant roller coaster and proud that I did it even though it was out of my comfort zone.
To wrap up my Calgary experience, I’m proud to say I survived my first chinook. It actually was quite enjoyable. If you don’t know what a chinook is, don’t feel bad. I had no idea until we landed in Calgary. I learned from Jiggs McDonald that a chinook is a blast of warm air that blows over the southern portion of Alberta, as winds make their way down the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies. Basically, it creates unseasonably warm weather. The natives say chinook means snow-eater. Last season we celebrated New Years in Calgary. It was below zero and covered in snow. This time, people were out and about jogging in t-shirts. It was a perfect time to visit Alberta’s largest city and made for a very nice first week of the road trip.
Stay tuned for my next blog where I share my adventures from Edmonton and Vancouver. More advice from Jiggs and a few more chuckles are pretty much guaranteed.