Condition monitoring helps build a better playing surface

Jan. 14, 2015
Thomas Wilk explains why facilities managers and engineers are the unsung heroes.

It looks so simple, elegant really, the way that curlers slide with their stones, the way the rocks glide cleanly down the sheet, the sweepers who brush the ice to nudge the stone toward its intended destination – none of which would be possible without a finely calibrated playing surface.

By now we all know that skills which look simple on the surface often require considerable behind-the-scenes time, energy, knowledge, and resources to execute. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell cites 10,000 hours as the investment of time required for a practitioner to be able to move from good or very good to outstanding, the point at which hard work turns invisible and brilliance is taken for granted.

Malcolm Gladwell, meet Shawn Olesen, Ice Technician for the United States Curling Association (USCA). Shawn and hi co-workers are responsible for building and maintaining the playing surfaces at all USCA events, as featured in our What Works story.

To do this, Olesen and an ice maintenance crew of 4-6 use a variety of condition monitoring techniques and technologies including infrared thermography to ensure that playing conditions are world-class and game-ready. “We also use remote sensors to monitor the ice and atmosphere constantly: ice temp, air temp, humidity, dew point, and brine temp,” Olesen says.

Some of these ideal conditions include:

  • Ice temperature: 23.5 °F
  • Air temperature 4 feet above the ice: 40 °F
  • Water temperature for each of two pebbling applications: 67 and 140 °F
  • Indoor humidity: 42%
  • Time between floodings to ensure the ice doesn’t crack: 5 hours

Even with a dedicated crew, setup can require 4-5 days of work. However, what caught my attention the most was the preventative mindset that permeates Olesen’s approach across both setup and game play. “We are always better off if we can anticipate an issue rather than reacting to a problem,” Olesen says. “For most of us on the Ice Crew, it isn’t a successful event unless we are not noticed.”

Does that approach sound familiar?

Supporting the USCA ice crews at each event is a small army of facilities managers and engineers, each of whom collaborate with the USCA team to ensure that the air handling system, dehumidification capabilities, and water quality in each facility can support a game-ready curling surface from when the first stone is thrown to the last.

One brief point of business: our cover story on additive manufacturing (i.e., 3D printing) has been moved to the February issue, in order to give the story a bit more time to be trimmed, smoothed, and sealed. In the meantime I hope you enjoy this month’s lineup, and if you’re in Kalamazoo MI next month for the USA Curling Nationals, give a wave and high-five to Shawn and the ice crew.

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