Braving the cold and hurrying hard: Outdoor bonspiel draws nearly 300 curlers in Winnipeg

72 teams participating in 17th Ironman Outdoor Curling Bonspiel at The Forks this weekend

The Ironman Outdoor Curling Bonspiel takes place on the Red River near The Forks in Winnipeg from Feb. 2 to Feb. 4.

Bundled up and sweeping with old household brooms and sponge mops to stay warm, curlers faced the extreme cold Saturday during the 17th annual Ironman Outdoor Curling Bonspiel.

Nearly 300 players on 72 teams are taking part in the weekend-long event, a fundraiser for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Manitoba, which sees players hurl their granite rocks down heavy, frozen ice on the Red River at The Forks.

“It’s still two feet in a hack and throw your guts out,” said player Darren Brown about the ice conditions.

He is playing in his fourth outdoor bonspiel this year. The slow, cold river ice makes sliding virtually impossible.

“Don’t bring your curling stuff like your shoes and that. Forget it,” said Brown. “People are just pushing the rocks with a broom. It’s a lot easier.”

Darren Brown and others braved the cold during the Ironman Curling Outdoor Bonspiel in Winnipeg Saturday. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Despite the slow ice, sheets this year are better than past years, when Brown said players had to navigate around gaping holes left by ice fishers.

Saturday’s extreme cold warning in Winnipeg, where the high was –19 C (and felt like –33 with wind chill), meant Brown’s team and others wrapped up six ends with expert efficiency.

Brown’s game lasted less than an hour.

“We did not win today but that’s strategy … we wanted to get off the ice as quick as we could,” he said with a smile just visible under a thick mass of frozen beard.

Ingrid Reid, a spokesperson for the Ironman Outdoor Curling Bonspiel, said restaurants at The Forks are open to players who just need a space to warm up and there’s hot chocolate available closer to the ice. The odd open bonfire helps keep the chilly edge off too.

“It is a unique experience, that is for sure,” she said.

For the first time, the local brewery Torque is supplying refreshments because, as Reid said, no curling event should be without a beer garden.

Winners of the Ironman Outdoor Curling Bonspiel receive new curling jackets.

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