Over the years, nipping at the heels of hockey, curling has slipped south. Interest in the curious game of rocks and brooms usually peaks around the Winter Olympics, then fades when the torch goes out. From its current capital in Canada, the sport gradually crept into Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas and other places in seasonal permafrost.

Over the years, nipping at the heels of hockey, curling has slipped south.

Interest in the curious game of rocks and brooms usually peaks around the Winter Olympics, then fades when the torch goes out. From its current capital in Canada, the sport gradually crept into Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas and other places in seasonal permafrost.

Like its granite stones, the sport spreads slowly and deliberately, occasionally popping up in spots further south. Central Ohio is just kind of lucky.

The Columbus Curling Club has thrived since 1999 and opened its own curling-specific facility several years ago on the North Side.

"It's virtually unheard of for a new curling club to build its own facility," said Mike Gallagher, the club president, who grew up watching curling on TV in Detroit. "I don't think there's another club in the country that has come so far in such a short time."

The club boasts more than 120 members, many of whom helped to transform a large storage room on Silver Drive into a bona fide ice house. It offers three rectangular playing rinks and a warm room where fans can watch games and grab a beer without seeing their breath.

"Curling's great because it spans every ability and every socio-economic background," club regular Steve Shaffer said. "Having our own facility is crucial. I curl four days a week."

More practice hasn't made them perfect - just more competitive than they were years ago, renting time at area skating rinks. Even with better competition, club games remain friendly, with members eager to show beginners how to slide, sweep and "stack the brooms," the curling term for grabbing a post-game brew.

In addition to upcoming learn-to-curl clinics Jan. 30, Feb. 5 and Feb. 6, the club is hosting a post-Olympic celebration, with beginner workshops daily from Feb. 26-March 5.

Curling Explained

1. A player pushes out from a plastic block, slides and releases a stone, twisting it slightly to create an arced path

2. Teammates sweep the ice with small brooms to affect the stone's speed and arc

3. A team captain called the skip signals where to throw with his broom, and which way to curl the stone (left or right) with his hand

4. Throwers attempt to knock away an opponent's stones and position theirs close to the button

Basic rules

- Games are played between two teams of four. Each player throws two rocks, alternating turns, during each end.

- An end is completed when all players have thrown.

- Only one team scores per end, like in bocce ball. The scoring team receives one point for each ball that's closer to the button than the other team's closest ball.

Why sweep?

Diligent sweeping can add between six and 12 feet to a throw by quickly heating up a path of ice and reducing ice-stone friction. Also, stones are thrown with a slight twist, called a curl. Because the curl speeds up when a stone loses momentum, adding speed to a throw straightens it out.

Curling Lingo

Expect plenty of curling when the Winter Olympics kick off in Vancouver Feb. 12. Here are some terms to help you follow along.

Burned rock: A stone touched by a broom

Hammer: The final stone of an end

The house: A series of concentric circles where curlers aim

Sheet: The rectangular rink on which games are played

Slider: A Teflon sole worn to increase glide