PEOPLE CHOOSE DIFFERENT methods of beating the heat, of finding relief from the searing sun.

On Thursday, I chose curling.It was nearing 100 degrees as I pulled on my gloves and my North Face vest.

But then I stepped into the curling rink inside Ogden's new Olympic ice sheet, and it was Helsinki on a mild spring day.

Like any American not from Wisconsin, I have taken my shots at curling. Sure, I enjoy a good curling joke as much as the next guy. I have mocked "that sport with the broom."

But for three dollars and no questions asked, anybody could participate in air-conditioned comfort in the two-hour learn-to-curl clinic sponsored by the Utah Winter Games.

You did have to sign an insurance waiver, which seemed to me excessive until I went to step on the ice and Robert, a clinic director from Wisconsin, handed me a "slider."

A slider goes on your left foot, producing a kind of "one ice skate" stability. In no time, I and my fellow beginning curlers were hitting the ice like we'd just run into the Detroit Red Wings.

The same people who invented golf invented curling: Scottish shepherds with an incredible capacity to devise ways to avoid work.

You've got to hand it to the Scots. Curling allowed them to use golf courses year round. In the summer, lochs are water hazards, in the winter, curling rinks.

Brooms came into the picture because snow and other debris needed to be constantly cleared off the lake ice so "stones" could glide true. In modern curling, despite the invention of the zamboni, and despite their high dork factor, use of the brooms persists.

If it were up to me, Mr. American who just learned the sport yesterday, I'd lose the brooms.

A good crowd took refuge on the ice sheet. There were fathers and mothers with their kids, several teenagers and a postal worker taking a break from his rounds. I'm guessing Scottish descent.

Also, there were the expectant expatriates from Canada, curling's modern capital - two in particular, "Tammy" and "Chris," who served as examples of what can happen when you get a person early and point them in the direction of the scoring area, a.k.a. "the house."

They turn into darn fine curlers, eh!

Tammy, a cute girl from Edmonton, said curling rinks are "a dime a dozen" where she comes from. When she moved to Utah for work, her biggest concern was hanging up her broom, but then, to her delight, she discovered new curling rinks popping up on account of the upcoming 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

Who knows, Utah could become the next U.S. hotbed of curling, rivaling Wisconsin. Broom sales could skyrocket.

I asked one of my clinic-mates, a student from nearby Northridge High wearing a Marilyn Manson T-shirt and a choker chain, what he thought. Could curling challenge, say, football?

After executing a nifty release, he said, "Football, no . . . baseball, maybe."

As we were wrapping up, and well out of earshot of Chris and Tammy, I asked a clinician named Lynette, in her USA Curling parka, if she'd seen anyone out there who might help us beat the Canucks.

At first she laughed, but then she looked to the far end of the ice and said, "Well, maybe that little kid in the red hat," pointing to a boy of about seven who at the moment was windmilling to keep his balance after delivering a fine draw.

She said nothing about my Olympic chances, despite the fact my last stone, a violent takeout, sent Robert jumping out of the way. In a mere two hours, I had turned curling into a contact sport.

I stepped back out into the parking lot, the heat rising visibly off the asphalt. The temperature was now 103. I looked back at the ice sheet. I had to admit I hated to leave. Curling is a very cool sport.