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Gimli's Ice Man from Manitoba

By Sue Dritmanis
  International curling ice expert Hans Wuthrich brings more than technical expertise to the creation of 2010 Winter Games-worthy rinks. He brings a hometown passion for the game.
     He isn't listed under Notable People in Wikipedia's entry on the town of Gimli, MB. But he should be. Hans Wuthrich is the curling world's ice king, the guru of rink-making for championship organizers all over the world. Now, after 32 years and nearly 500 events, this internationally certified ice technician and Gimli resident is bringing his steady hand, keen eye and innovative tool kit to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games where he will take charge of the playing surface in the sparkling new, eight-sheet Vancouver Curling Club for the pre- and Winter Games.
     It's trickier than it looks. In competition, each sheet has to be consistent for every draw. It must be perfectly level, entirely frost-free, uniform in its pebbling (the small water droplets that make rocks curl) and 100% consistent in the degree to which it encourages 38 to 44-lb (17 to 20-kg) rocks to turn, or curl inwards or outwards, after competitors throw them. Fifty-one-year-old Wuthrich relies on a wireless ice monitoring system, ice scrapers, hoses, pebbling heads and pebbling cans, flooding tubs and a "beavertail" pebbling head he invented himself.
     "We use 20 different types of beaver tails to create the pebbled surface," he says. "They lay down water droplets as small as a half-millimetre (.02 in). And we don't just use tap water. It's de-ionized, zero hardness, zero minerals. It's like pure rainwater, and it freezes fast."
     During competition, Wuthrich and ice crews typically arrives at 5:30 each morning to groom the surface and often doesn't leave until midnight, after each sheet has been shaved, flooded, re-pebbled and refrozen. Testing involves throwing lots of rocks down each sheet of ice to find out what the speed and curl is, a welcome task for this recreational curler who is married to a former Olympian (Patti Vandekerckhove, a curler took home gold for Canada at the 1988 Olympics at the Calgary Winter Games).
     "Our Gimli Curling Club has 1,200 members," he observes. Not bad for a town with only 6,000 residents.

Sue Dritmanis is a Vancouver, BC-based writer, editor and publishing consultant. She is the former managing editor of Western Living and Travel Etc. magazines, and teaches communications and magazine publishing at Capilano College. Dritmanis' work has appeared in Canadian Living, Where Vancouver and BC Business, among many other titles.

Photo Credit & Article:
courtesy, Canadian Tourism Commission

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