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World champs to compete in Skookum Cash Spiel

This November, not only will Whitehorse curlers get to see a master in action, they might pick up a pointer or two.

This November, not only will Whitehorse curlers get to see a master in action, they might pick up a pointer or two.

At this fall’s 2009 Skookum World Curling Tour Cash Spiel at the Whitehorse Curling Club November 19 through 22, three curling greats will be competing, including current world champion Kevin Martin.

“When he comes up we’re looking into getting him to help out with a clinic at the same time,” said Jon Solberg, business manager of the Whitehorse Curling Club. “So we’ll have some folks out there and he’ll be able to help them out as far as technique.”

“The Old Bear,” as he is sometimes called, has won four Tim Hortons Briers, eight career grand slam victories and an Olympic silver medal. With almost $2 million in prize money won throughout his career, Martin is one of the most successful ever to send a rock down a sheet.

“He’s one of the absolute best and he’s a very good spokesperson,” said Solberg.

This will not be the first time a top-notch curler has competed in the territory; past Brier and World champions Randy Ferbey and Rick Folk have made the trip north. As it stands now, Folk will also be returning for the Skookum Spiel and organizers are currently hoping for confirmation from Ferbey.

Also returning for the spiel, which for the second year is offering a $50,000 prize structure, is 2007 champ Steve Waatainen and 2008 winner Chris Schille.

The increased prize money - it went up by $20,000 last year - is a major reason for the growing interest from big names, said Solberg. The timing of the event is also significant, he added.

“I think the increased prize money is the number one contributor,” said Solberg. “Some of the other factors going on with this particular event is the timing is quite good for teams that are participating in the Olympic trials, which are held in Edmonton in early December. So this is a way for the curlers to come up and utilize our world-class facility, and ice, in preparation for that particular event.”

So far, 11 BC and Alberta teams have registered for the Skookum Spiel with a 12th likely to sign-up at the end of the week.

“Word is starting to spread down south about the competitive nature and the well-planned event,” said Solberg. “We expect our neighbours from Fairbanks, Alaska - they curl regularly over there - to send a couple teams and we’ll probably have about eight local teams this year. So in total we’ll have 24 teams again with eight teams qualifying into prize money.”

Before the lucrative Cash Spiel, the curling club will be holding two other bonspiels in October and early November. Prior to the annual women’s bonspiel to be held November 7 and 8, the Whitehorse Curling Club will hold the EBA Engineering/United Way Mixed Bonspiel on October 23, 24 and 25.

“That’s a corporate challenge so the United Way will be looking at fundraising through this,” said Solberg. “So we’ll pull from our membership for this to participate, but also the local community businesses to put teams in.”

Turning the focus away from just its own events, to help local teams compete in outside bonspiels, the curling club has adopted a new travel assistance policy this season.

“The curling club has allocated $8,100 annually to help both our competitive and intermediate curlers to progress and meet their goals from year to year,” said Solberg. “The travel policy is to help the teams that are struggling in finding sponsorship, to travel outside of our community to get to that higher level of curling.”

League play at the club began on Monday, maintaining to the same schedule as last year. However, with membership down so far, teams joining any of the leagues in the coming weeks will not be penalized in the ranking system.

“The weather has been so nice that our membership level is a little lower than last year,” said Solberg. “So we’re just going to do a two week draw for the teams we have right now, and then we’re going to include the teams that register in the next couple weeks.

“From that stage on we’ll start keeping standings for all our leagues.”

Standings aside, curlers of all skill levels are welcome to join the club throughout the season, including children who can curling in Thursday afternoon’s junior program or in Saturday morning’s Rockers program for those five to 12 years old.

“It’s never too late to register and to get a team to curl; we’re always willing to accommodate local people wanting to put teams in,” said Solberg. “There’s always room here.

“We have an absolutely gorgeous facility with eight sheets of world-class ice. We’ve given all the resources to our level-four head ice tech to be able to put wonderful ice out here for our member.

“This is probably - if not the - one of the nicest facilities in all the world for curling and it’s right here in our backyard.”

What better way to prove that than having what many consider to be the Tiger Woods of the curling world soon to compete here in Whitehorse?

Contact Tom Patrick at