With white hair and bald spots, the men scooted across the textured ice -- one shoe with a flat, grippy sole and the other that slides.
They scoured the ice with what looked like brooms and "threw stones." They were curling, a sport that most of them have played since they were kids. Gary Thomson, a 73-year-old retired bush pilot here on the Canada side of Sault Ste. Marie, kept stepping off the ice to give me little tips about what they were doing -- and to make playful jabs at his teammates.
But curling stretches across the ages and sexes, here and around the world.
Curling is foreign enough to us down south that we still cock our heads when we see it, usually on the Olympics.
It's only up north, eh?
Not anymore. Go no further than the University of Notre Dame. And find curling clubs in Michigan in Kalamazoo, Lansing, Detroit, Midland and Lewiston. The outdoor ice rink in downtown South Haven has offered it, though the rink season there has just ended.
Clubs are also in Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and Evansville in Indiana.
I caught the Soo Curlers on Monday on a trip to go cross-country skiing.
The air inside the arena was cool enough to moisten the nose, but the men kept warm in a rather physical game. It's simpler than you'd expect. It's played in teams of four. The "stones" are uniform, 42-pound pieces of granite. A player at one end pushes the stone down a sort of icy bowling lane toward a circular target, twisting the stone slightly to make it curl.
The goal: Get the stone as close to the center as possible. Teammates near the circle use sorts of brooms to scrub the ice in front of the stone -- but only if needed. A player ahead of them watches and calls out directions, and in the Soo they did that by going "Yip! Yip! Yip!" The more the teammates scrubbed, the faster and straighter the stone slid.
The stone is only able to keep sliding forward because of the ice's pebbled texture, made by spraying an even coat of water droplets.
It was free to watch. And the Soo arena has a restaurant where you can watch through the glass.
But the league play dries up by the end of April.
Notre Dame's Compton Family Ice Arena started learn-to-curl classes last spring, then launched a league in the fall that turned into a huge success.
"It's unbelievable -- the demand and the number of questions," said Kevin Deeth, assistant programming manager, who oversees the 32 teams of four players each from Notre Dame and the community.
Curling classes won't begin again until the fall, but you can watch the league play between 4:30 and 10:30 p.m. Sunday evenings through April. No leagues play today and March 31. On March 24, there's only league play at 9 p.m.
The Notre Dame arena will host a "bonspiel" (curling lingo for a tournament) April 26-28. The public is welcome to watch. Times have yet to be announced. Follow comptonice.nd.edu for details.
The Kalamazoo Curling Club will offer lessons from 5 to 7 p.m. March 23 in "The Cube" at Wings Stadium, 3600 Vanrick Drive, Kalamazoo. Cost is $15. Organizers say: "We have been swamped with folks. ... Don't be late."