"Every year, my neighbor does an ice skating rink, and I really felt that ice bowling was an untapped commodity," said Nick Smith, who is a digital manager for Brunswick Corp. in Muskegon. "We got our snowblowers out on the pond and made some lanes."
Smith lives in a housing development on Chandy Acres Pond in Fruitport. Last month, he and a Brunswick co-worker, Ryan Mouw, decided to take their love for bowling — commonly an indoor sport — to the frigid outdoors. The pair ventured out onto the pond, shoveled off a 60-foot by 39-inch bowling alley, racked some pins and began knocking them down.
"I even measured out pin spots to make sure those met specifications," Smith said. "I guess some serious cabin fever set in."
During the deep freeze, which consumed the last two weeks of 2017 and the first week of the new year, Smith and Mouw endured sub-zero wind chills so they could ice bowl.
"Once the ice froze, it stayed nice and flat," said Mouw, who works in marketing for Brunswick. “(Nick) is pretty meticulous how he keeps the lanes. He does a great job to get the best performance."
Donned with heavy winter jackets, boots and gloves, the two men said they have spent several hours a day out on the frozen pond.
"The neighbors have really gotten into it," Smith said. "They bring their home-brewed beer and join us for a few frames."
It literally turns into a bowling party on the pond.
"Everyone is out here to have a good time," added Mouw.
Perhaps the best thing about ice bowling is that there are no rules, Smith said.
"There is no gutter, so the bumpers — in this case the snow banks — are in play," he said. "We also have a backstop, which is a pile of shoveled snow, and that's also in play."
So, after the ball knocks pins down, it's stopped by the snow mound. If the ball rolls backward and knocks more pins down, that counts.
"Even wind can work in your favor," Smith said. "If there's a good wind gust during your shot, all the better. Mother Nature is definitely on your side in ice bowling."
If you throw a curve ball, or play the lane arrows in bowling, you won't have the luxury of relying on those in ice bowling.
"I've learned my lesson not to try a curve ball," Mouw said. "You've got to take your minimum mistake option shot and that's straight at the head pin."
Unlike indoor bowling, there's no pin rack machine and no automatic ball return. Somebody sets the pins up after every roll, and the ball has to be rolled back to the bowler who is throwing.
"We're getting our exercise in and we're getting fresh air while still doing the sport we love," Mouw said.
Some may call them crazy, while others may see them as pioneers.
"We'd like to be considered the Wright Brothers of ice bowling," Mouw said. "(Nick and I) have trail-blazed for all future ice bowlers."
The two said they are planning to expand their ice bowling endeavor in 2019. They hope to turn Chandy Acres Pond into a full bowling alley with several lanes. They'd like to host the Chandy Acres Open, and have an ice bowling tournament that anybody interested will be able to play in.