Winter Olympics provide a boost in popularity for Pittsburgh Curling Club
Every four years, the Pittsburgh Curling Club draws more attention and it's no secret why.
The organization, which offers the only curling league in Western Pennsylvania, was founded when a group of people watched curling on TV during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. With each subsequent Winter Olympics, the club has benefited from the sport's prime-time placement on NBC.
“It's not just us,” President Steve Buffington said. “Every curling club across the country sees the same general type of bump in their interest level.”
The Winter Olympics, which began last week in Sochi, Russia, call attention to sports that typically don't get much TV coverage and as a result, some of those activities draw participants.
The Pittsburgh Curling Club, with 85 members, plays once a week in the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center in Neville.
After the 2006 winter games in Torino, Italy, the club offered two short-term leagues for beginners that quickly sold out. Four years later, around the time of the Vancouver games, more than 900 people came to open nights of league play that allowed newcomers to try the sport on the ice.
“The response was way, way above what we thought we were going to get,” Buffington said.
Buffington credits increased interest in curling to the sport's TV-friendliness. In non-Olympic years, “People aren't exposed to it,” Buffington said.
“People come up all the time (during our games) and say: ‘Hey, I've always wanted to see curling! I can't believe you guys do it here,' and they'll stand and watch it for a few minutes. But that's people who happen to come into the building.”
Some other sports benefit from the Winter Olympics spotlight.
Anna Weltz, spokeswoman for Seven Springs Mountain Resort, said all customers at this time of year have “Olympic fever, to some degree or another.” Skiing and snowboarding lessons are offered at Seven Springs and Hidden Valley resorts.
Seven Springs hosted the Burton U.S. Open Qualifiers in 2013 and 2014. Snowboarder Taylor Gold, who competed at the qualifiers, is in Sochi for the Olympics.
Weltz said the qualifiers piqued interest, and she expects the Olympics to do the same — particularly with this year's debut of slopestyle snowboarding and skiing.
“Once people see that on the screen ... once they see the talent and the intensity of those athletes, people are going to be hooked,” Weltz said.
Nick Miller, rink manager at Blade Runners in Warrendale, said he hasn't seen much of an Olympics impact there, in terms of ice skaters.
And Rick Garstka, treasurer of the Pennsylvania Cross Country Skiers Association, said the games don't inspire more interest.
The need to learn and practice skiing, along with a lack of places to rent skis, may be reasons, he said.
“You have to know how to navigate the downhills, you have to learn how to go up hills,” he said. “It's just not a simple matter of saying: ‘I saw that on TV. I think I should go try it.'”
The Pittsburgh Curling Club now is near capacity, with around 80 members, because of limited ice time.
However, the club is raising money to build a curling-only facility in Butler County, and hopes the Olympics will keep people interested enough to join later.
“Really, what we're trying to do this year is introduce people to the sport of curling and also let them know about our building plans,” Buffington said.
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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