Professional world curling comes to Yukon

The world is coming to Whitehorse … to curl. For the first time, Whitehorse will host a stop on the World Curling Tour, the Nuway Crushing…

The world is coming to Whitehorse … to curl.

For the first time, Whitehorse will host a stop on the World Curling Tour, the Nuway Crushing Cash Spiel, on November 16-19 at Mount McIntyre.

“This is professional curling, not recreational curling,” said Derek Charlton, the former general manager of the club and a key organizer of the Cash Spiel.

“There are ultimate goals — to represent their territory or province in the national championships, whether it’s the mixed, the Scott Tournament of Hearts, or the Tim Hortons Briar.”

It’s not called a cash spiel for nothing; a $16,000 purse (which may increase) will be at stake, and the results count in WCT standings and also toward the Strauss Canada Cup.

The tournament is open to any men’s, women’s or mixed rinks.

The World Curling Tour holds more than 60 events in a season, mostly in Canada, with European and US events as well.

Charlton said the idea for hosting a WCT event was hatched to help local curlers get a chance to compete.

With a maximum of 24 teams, he estimates six to eight local teams will enter, and another six to eight teams from outside.

“We have a number of competitive curlers … but because of the cost of travelling out, they aren’t able to get the competition that curlers from BC or Alberta would get,” said Charlton.

“A lot of times they are curling against themselves — they’re not getting the level of intensity that can be found on a national scale, so the idea was to bring the national level to Whitehorse.”

Local skip Brian Wasnea has 15 years experience in competitive curling. He has gone to the Briar twice, and is looking forward to a home-ice advantage.

“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for a Yukon curler, to play in your own ballpark, your own ice,” said Wasnea.

“I said to myself, after going to two Briars and not having success, ‘I wonder how we’d do against these guys on our own ice,’ — now we have that opportunity.”

In it’s inaugural year, Spiel organizers are hoping to attract some marquee curlers to add some clout to the proceedings.

“We’re working with Air North and Westmark Whitehorse and Budget Rent-a-Car to bring a big name to Whitehorse, to give it a shot in the arm,” said Charlton.

Although the WCT has a professional tag, most curlers work regular jobs to fund their competitive careers.

“It’s not like hockey — where you get paid to play on a team — the cash prizes go to cover their lost wages while they are off competing,” said Charlton. “Unless you are retired, nobody is a full-time curler. It’s still a grassroots sport.”

“Unfortunately, we have to offer something more than a stop in the prairies, because we’re in the corner of the country,” said Wasnea.

“To attract somebody like the Gushue rink, Olympic champions, with everyone watching them, from all the way across the country, is difficult.”

Eventually, Charlton would like the Spiel’s reputation to bring them here.

Previous high-profile events, like the TSN Skins match and last year’s Mixed National Championships, resulted in great feedback from participants.

The quality of the ice surface in particular is a big factor for curlers.

“As word gets out about the ice conditions in Whitehorse, people will want to come and play here,” said Charlton.

With sponsorship in place for at least three years, the event will have time to establish itself as a quality curling tournament.

“This year, and the next three years, we’re planting the seed,” he said. “Hopefully, in that time, we’d have a full slate of teams, increased our prize money and shown the viability of this event in Whitehorse — and if we increased the membership of the Whitehorse Curling Club, then that’s a bonus.”