The new home of TSN's all-star curling skins game provides an opportunity for an outdoor feel, but not the feminine touch. At least not yet.
The gorgeous, refurbished curling rink at the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre will be the site of the 2014 big-cash competition, January 11th and 12th.
An outdoor exhibition game featuring some of the sport's biggest stars is being planned and while, lamentably, there will once again be no women on the ballots fans will use to choose the players, that is likely to change for 2015.
“It’s a work in progress," replied Ian Charlton, Managing Director of TSN Events, who notes that Banff will host the game for "at least a couple of years" - if all goes as planned - before it's moved around "to different deserving and sensational venues."
In saying "it's a work in progress," Charlton was responding, specifically, to a question about having an outdoor game as part of the weekend, but he could just as easily have been talking about the logistics of adding women to the ballot.
"We’re working with the town and the recreation centre to make sure that there can be some sort of outdoor experience we develop for (next) year’s event," explained Charlton. “We’ve been working at trying to come up with a scenario that would allow us to do that."
Just so happens that organizers with the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre run an outdoor bonspiel every year, so the know-how is in place. So is the desire to pull together a scenario where the pros are battling it out with each other in al fresco fashion.
“The outdoor element, we really think just brings a ‘cool’ factor and a newness to what we’re trying to do with skins," Charlton continued. "We really want something to come together in this regard."
He speaks of a fan-friendly outdoor curling experience, with club curlers and newbies being able to take part, but also having skins game all-stars join in as well, conditions permitting.
“If we can bring the experience together properly and weather and so forth cooperates, having something that maybe the players can participate in for fun as well,” he said of the plan.
As was the case with the 2013 skins game, the 2014 event will be men only, with a fan voting window that will be far shorter than last year's five weeks. Charlton says that's so they can compress the hype window a bit, but it's also likely because organizers just won't know who they should exclude from the ballot until after the Olympic Trials are finishing up in early December. It's possible that members of the Canadian men's Olympic team might opt for more intensive training just ahead of Sochi, regardless of the attractiveness of skins in Banff.
The lack of female participation is something I've pointed out as being a flaw in the event, and Charlton doesn't disagree.
"I share your opinion and I think it’s a great one and we really want to see women (be) part of skins," he said, promising that they are looking into a change going forward.
(In fairness, although women were excluded from last year's balloting and will be again for the Banff games, skins has included female players at times previous to the all-star format.)
"I can say on behalf of TSN and all of us engaged in curling that we want to see the women part of skins as soon as possible. I’ve got my eye on 2015 and certainly that’s been discussed internally. "(It's) not for a lack of discussion or effort. We really hope to set the stage for 2015 and including women in every way possible."
So what's the hold up? Scheduling.
“Because the provincial playdowns take place the same weekend as skins, just bringing all the pieces together to allow great women curlers we have in this country and everywhere, we couldn’t make it work," said Charlton.
Good point. Some of the best curlers in the land would not be able to confirm their availability in time to be put on the ballot. You could argue that Rachel Homan's team could be, as they avoid provincials in 2014 as defending Scotties champs. Should they not win an Olympic berth, they'd be available. However, to be truly regarded as fan-favourite all-stars, they'd need to go up against a bigger list of female competition.
So, 2015 it is, with skins getting a new spot on the schedule, one would assume.
It could come after the Scotties and Brier, or perhaps be pushed into the autumn schedule.
But that's a little farther down the road. For 2014, the skins game will be all about big cash, big mountains and big skies.