BASEL, Switzerland -- To get fully charged for the upcoming world championship, skip Glenn Howard and his teammates took a day to forget about the sport they love.
After arriving in this picturesque Swiss city on Wednesday, the jetlagged Canadians used their pre-tournament off-day to hit the Alps and take in the sights from the top of Mount Pilatus.
Howard said it was a great opportunity to bond and enjoy the scenery.
"We didn't even talk curling the entire day," he said Friday. "Curling wasn't even on our brain. We knew that we were going to have eight long days of curling so why worry about it when you're up in a beautiful part of the world."
The three-time world champ is coming off a stellar performance at the Tim Hortons Brier earlier this month. He'll open the 2012 world playdowns on Saturday afternoon against Thomas Dufour of France at the St. Jakobshalle.
Howard practised for about an hour Friday with third Wayne Middaugh, second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill. They threw stones on all four sheets to get a feel for the ice at the 9,000-seat venue.
"Every weekend we've got a little bit stronger, a little bit better," Middaugh said. "We just hope we can do it for one more week for Canada."
Aside from a few promotional flags and posters around town, there has been little pre-event buzz. That changed Friday as locals watched the curlers and national delegations take part in a parade to the Basel Town Hall for the opening ceremony.
With a Swiss military band and local pipe band providing a rousing soundtrack, the competitors later filtered out into the city square and enjoyed a few glasses of beer. A few hundred fans took in the celebration as curlers posed for photos, signed autographs and mingled with the crowd.
"That's the first time I've ever been to anything like that," Middaugh said. "A parade down the main street and both sides of the street just lined with people cheering. It (gives you) chills to think, 'You know what, it's a world championship and the flag's on your back.'
"It's pretty special to be here."
Canada has an opportunity to get off to a good start with France, Germany and the United States on tap over the opening weekend. Things should get tougher after that against skips like Norway's Thomas Ulsrud, Scotland's Tom Brewster and Sweden's Niklas Edin.
Some last-minute touches to the arena were still being applied late Friday. Workers could be heard hammering away in the end grandstand as curlers practised on the ice below.
Howard is looking to win the world championship for the fourth time. His previous titles came in 1987, 1993 and 2007.
He teamed with Laing, Savill and Richard Hart to win his last championship. Middaugh, who also won gold as a skip in 1998, joined the team prior to this season after Hart's retirement.
Other teams in the field include China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, the United States and host Switzerland.
If necessary, tiebreaker games will be played Friday and the medal games are scheduled for April 8. Teams also have an opportunity to earn Olympic qualifying points for their countries at the event.
Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton beat Scotland 6-5 in last year's world championship in Regina. The 2013 event will be held in Victoria.