Behind the scenes: Walking on thin ice

Mark Callan and his team of ice technicians, are key to making the Championship a success Photo: WCF/Jesse Kushneryk

By Warwick Lane
WCF Trainee Journalist

While the curlers are taking part in world class competition at the Le Gruyere European Championships 2013, the unsung heroes are often those who make the whole thing possible.

The Sørmarka Arena wasn’t built with the European Curling Championships in mind. Since opening three years ago, it traditionally plays host to speed skating and ice hockey events.

For 10 days however, it has been transformed to host one of the more prestigious events in the Curling calendar. It will host matches on 10 separate sheets of ice for the Group A and B games.

One of the men in charge of that process is International Ice Technician Mark Callan. Alongside Mark Shurek, Scott Henderson and Wayne Cubbin, he helps to ensure the quality of ice remains at world championship standard, something which can prove to be quite a challenge in venues not built for Curling.

“The main issue we had here was the size. It’s probably one of the biggest arenas in Europe in terms of square metres of ice. There’s over 9,000 square metres which is a massive area to work with.

“There is one refrigeration plant to keep the whole area cool so it is quite a challenge to make sure the ice is even across both halls,” he said.

Working with conditions such as these is all part of the job for Mark and his team, and despite the enormity of the task he was unfazed by the problems posed.

Mark said: “It’s not really the toughest, just different. Every event presents a challenge in some shape or form. Some are because of its environmental controls or poor refrigeration systems. This one had some difficulties simply due to the sheer size of the place.

“Having one plant in an arena so big makes it a challenge as most places would have one plant for each playing area. There are of course exceptions with this being one of them.”

This has also thrown up other issues for the team, with any changes needed to be made to conditions taking up to two hours before they take effect on the ice.

He said: “Because the arena is cooled by just one refrigeration plant, there is a huge amount of thermal lag so we’re being proactive in looking at what’s happening ahead so we can adjust the plant to suit the upcoming changes.”

Thermal lag is the time it takes for the conditions to take effect on the ice after being changed at the refrigeration plant.

The team began their work on the arena six days before the first stone was thrown, mapping and planning the playing surface right down to the last centimetre.

“Although this is a massive arena, the dimensions we’re working with are right down to the wire. There are quite a lot of factors you have to take into consideration, everything from the dimensions of the sheets to the placement of the logos so it can get quite intense,” he said.

With the competition well underway, the team are kept busy maintaining the quality of the ice. After every game, they are out preparing and pebbling the ice ready for the next encounter. During the games, they monitor sensors all around the arena which pick up crucial details about the conditions.

They aim to keep the temperature on the ice at around -5C throughout the week, and although the ice itself should pose few problems, Mark knows that it doesn’t take much to change the conditions in the arena.

“It should be kept pretty constant now, but if there was to be a warm day and a lot of people coming in, then that would change the dynamics and the humidity.

“We would also start to worry about the dew point, which is where a volume of ice can’t hold any more moisture causing a frost if it got too high. This would affect the playing conditions so we want to avoid it at all costs."

Some days the task of maintaining ice keeps him occupied for more than 18 hours, but he thrives on the challenge, with everyday showing him something different.

Mark has been doing his job for over 25 years, and is still committed to producing the best possible ice for the athletes to perform.

“You want the ice to be consistent and good. If it’s good, then nobody needs to tell you, but rest assured, if it’s bad then they will let you know. You do get a great deal of fulfilment if you can produce a nice sheet.

“If you see close games and good curling shots, where no shot is impossible with people playing on the outside and the inside then for me that’s job satisfaction.”

Mark and his team will be at the Sørmarka Arena all week, and more than happy to speak to anyone interested in learning more about the science of 'Curling' ice.

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