Shivers, sticks and stones: Brrrmidji Plunge, pond hockey and outdoor curling all part of Winterfest (photo gallery)
BEMIDJI -- Smooth Scottish stones sailed across the iced surface of Lake Bemidji for the first time in more than 80 years this weekend.
Curling has returned to Bemidji’s winter festival.
Bemidji is, after all, Curling Capitol USA; it only makes sense that an outdoor curling Bonspiel would highlight Winterfest on Lake Bemidji.
“We needed a winter event like Dragon Boats,” said Terry Matson of the Bemidji Curling Club.
Other events as part of Winterfest were a pond hockey tournament, a Brrrmidji Plunge into Lake Bemidji and a cornhole tournament.
As of Thursday, Matson didn’t know how the ice was going to turn out for the Bonspiel that began on Friday night. To accommodate the competition, six sheets were needed.
“It’s beyond my dreams,” Matson said Saturday. “The ice turned out really good.” He said setting up the outdoor arena will take half as long next year.
Matson credited Josh Bahr with mastering the smooth ice. Bahr was playing against Jamie Haskell on Saturday afternoon. Haskell competed at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy. Former Olympian Joe Polo was also roaming the ice on Lake Bemidji during Winterfest.
“They’re having a blast out there,” Matson said.
Three draws were played Friday with another 10 on Saturday. The championship team takes home a custom Paul Bunyan curling trophy.
Matson said there were 26 teams competing this year. Next year, he anticipates 48.
“And they better register early,” Matson added. “This year, the weather hindered sign-ups early on. I’d have had more teams if I had a normal winter.”
Entry fees collected by teams participating in the Winterfest Bonspiel are contributed to the Bemidji Curling Club’s junior curlers for equipment and travel expenses. Matson said Bemidji’s junior curling team is the largest in Minnesota.
“Interest in the curling club picks up during Olympic years,” Matson said. So does participation in his community education curling course offered in October.
“If you understand the game, it’s a hoot to watch,” Matson said.
The last time curling was performed on Lake Bemidji is believed to have been in 1932 when the Hibbing Curling Club introduced it as a demonstration sport during Bemidji’s winter carnival.
An outdoor hockey tournament and curling area are the newest addition to Bemidji’s little city of ice houses on Lake Bemidji. While not exactly of Olympic proportions, the compound also has a manmade natural pool -- if only for Saturday’s Brrrmidji Plunge.
Brrrmidji Plungers were represented by 14 state flags and nine country flags protruding from snowbanks around a hole carved in Lake Bemidji’s surface. It took less than an hour for 119 registered jumpers to boldly splash into Lake Bemidji’s freezing waters on Saturday afternoon.
“It was a good day today. The weather really cooperated,” said Caren Smith, Bemidji Jaycee member and Brrrmidji Plunge chair. When the hole was cut into Lake Bemidji early Saturday, the temperature was well below zero. By the time the last plunger dipped into the pool, temperatures were in the single digits.
Smith said the money raised from the plunge would be split between the Bemidji Community Food Shelf and the Soup Kitchen. Fittingly, a food shelf volunteer’s daughter was jumping into the five-foot deep hole to raise money for the local charities.
“It’s something Whitney wanted to take off her bucket list,” Bonnie Weidenborner said of her daughter. Taking the plunge has been something Whitney Weidenborner, 15, of Bemidji has wanted to do since she was a toddler.
Smith said the funds raised will be matched with a grant in March and donated to the charities for a total of $12,000. In years past, the Brrrmidji Plunge was part of the Polar Plunge that contributes to the Special Olympics.
“Three years ago, we separated from the Polar Plunge,” Smith said. “Now we support local charities.”
Bemidji has been hosting a plunge event for 11 years. Smith said she began promoting the event in November. The Brrrmidji Plunge was supported by 23 sponsors monetarily and by volunteers from the Bemidji Jaycees, Bemidji Fire Rescue, the Dive Depot, Dive Team, Delta Theta Kappa and Theta Tau Epsilon.
Winterfest also included a radar run along with food and beverage vendors. The radar run continues Sunday.