Curling: LPC stones Big Sky Rock
Big Sky Curling League crowns a familiar champion
By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
You may question the athleticism required for the Olympic sport of curling. On a winter Friday night in Big Sky, you’ll find evidence to support that argument: beer cans, YETIs and a liberal dose of people standing around.
But watch the right team closely, and you’ll discover power, finesse, communication and maximum exertion—either vigorous, well-practiced sweeping or fierce shouting from competitive throwers. Furthermore, when snowflakes collect and the ice adopts a certain texture, you’ll see grown adults heaving a 40-pound “stone” with all their might.
Said conditions took effect on March 3-4, as the Big Sky Curling League, organized by the Big Sky Skating and Hockey Association and Big Sky Community Organization, finished its season with a single-elimination tournament. Near-constant snow increased the surface friction at the Marty Pavelich Ice Rink, forcing players from 20 teams to slide the stones with more than double the typical force needed—the tournament favored brute strength over precision. By the end of the second day, Lone Peak Cannabis and Big Sky Rock had each played three matches in six hours before facing off under the lights and heavy snow.
“That’s Big Sky curling,” said Jeff Trulen, who launched the local league. “But to any seasoned curler, that’s not curling.”
Trulen founded the league about five years ago after signing his kids up for hockey and learning that the rink wasn’t getting a lot of use. To help the BSSHA, he suggested they purchase some curling stones. Trulen’s only background in curling came from the previous winter in Bozeman. The Big Sky Community Organization took over the league this season, but Trulen still enjoys taking care of the ice.
“Ice is the most important part of curling. Without good ice it becomes a ‘huck fest,’” he said.
The object of the game is to place as many stones as possible closer to the target than the opponent’s nearest attempt. Each team throws eight stones per “end” (round of throws) toward the target, and the closer team gains a point for each stone (within the target) closer than the opponent’s best. One team could score as many as eight points per end, or, if all 16 stones missed, neither team would score.
But in Big Sky, many players don’t know the rules when they sign up.
In its first year, Trulen said the league sold out quickly. He thinks it helps shorten winters by providing a Friday night activity with friends, and he compared it to Big Sky’s 22-year-old softball league.
“Curling brings a different dynamic of people to the rink,” said Ryan Blechta, BSSHA President and board member of the BSCO, which absorbed BSSHA in 2022. “Anyone can do it. That’s why it’s so popular… I don’t think it’s ever going away.”
Blechta gave credit to BSSHA volunteers, who have made curling possible through ice care and fundraising since the beginning. Both Blechta and Trulen helped teach curling-ice maintenance to BSCO folks, which Blechta said is the hardest part due to variable conditions—his team, “Variable Conditions,” made a surprising run to the frozen four.
The Big Sky Curling League had 28 teams this year, the most ever. Trulen said they don’t advertise sign-ups, but every year, the league sells out. His team, “They Probably Cheated,” suffered a first-round playoff loss to the “12-ounce curls,” but he’ll be back.
After earning a first-round bye, Big Sky Rock began their quest for a repeat championship at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday, March 4. They won three matches in a row, and captain Scott Altman said they didn’t stop for dinner before they met a familiar foe at 7 p.m.—Lone Peak Cannabis.
One LPC player told EBS they have “the best pregame in the business.” Following a first-round bye of their own, LPC opened Saturday competition at 1 p.m., and had a break during the 2:15 slot before returning to win the quarter- and semifinals by nightfall.
Sources said league organizers tried to postpone the tournament due to weather. Curlers opposed the notion, given their professional and family commitments outside the sport. Heavy snow or shine, LPC and Big Sky Rock were determined to compete for the belt.
Both teams agreed to Zamboni the ice—by shovel and dry mop—after alternating throws, clearing snow and speeding up the ice. Still, players used both feet to push off the hacks (footholds lodged in the ice) and sprawled onto their stomachs. On a typical night, curling requires delicate balance and touch. But, as Trulen said, it was Big Sky curling.
Entering the fourth of six ends, LPC held a 2-1 advantage. To skirt the friction—and perhaps the rules—team captain Charlie Gaillard threw a stone which wobbled like a spinning coin. When asked where he learned that technique, he described, without hesitation, a nonsensical story about his travels to Newfoundland. LPC placed one stone closer than Big Sky Rock and extended their lead to 3-1.
In the fifth and penultimate end, Big Sky Rock cut the margin to 3-2. The Big Sky Curling League rested in the balance of inches as the curlers advanced to the sixth end.
With their final stone, Big Sky Rock needed a bullseye to trump LPC’s best, roughly 2 feet from the center of the target. But LPC had placed a blocker—a stone in front of the target—and it blocked Big Sky Rock’s hopes of keeping the belt.
“We asked to play [LPC] during the season, we didn’t get ‘em,” Altman said. “We played a little friendly, we beat them in the friendly, and when it came to the end, that’s who we wanted to play. We’ll get it back next year though.”
EBS spoke with the three-time champions: Tucker and Drew Vanyo, Charlie Gaillard and Brit Barnes—a former Big Sky resident who commutes from Billings for the sport.
“We all sponsor the team, we all own small businesses, and it’s kind of a cool thing—” Barnes said, before he was interrupted by celebration as his teammates scribbled their name into the center of the bracket.
Gaillard said it means a lot to take the belt back from Big Sky Rock, “because they’re super good.”
“We all want it, we’re all homies, super good friends.” Tucker said on LPC’s strengths. Barnes pointed out that it took him two years to get on the team, as he was “vetted appropriately” for his commitment.
In the offseason, Big Sky Rock plans to conduct “lot of dryland training,” Altman said. “Minnesota—no telling where we’ll be.”
His teammate added, “suitcase carries, mostly.”
After a direct prompt by EBS, one LPC curler shouted, “we’re going to Disneyland” and both teams sipped champagne in the snow.