Icy chute, soft snow make swift rides for 2017 Toboggan Nationals
CAMDEN SNOW BOWL — With snow gently falling over Tobogganville, Hosmer Pond and Ragged Mountain, spirits were running high, as were the top speeds of the competing teams of the 27th annual Toboggan Nationals. The chute was cold, icy and fast, and the landing zone, pushing well out on Hosmer Pond, was softened by a fresh blanket of fluffy snow.
In all, it was a perfect day for the annual championship, which has always been grounded by an easygoing legacy based on a simple mission: To have fun in the middle of winter on the coast of Maine.
While Day One results hovered between 9.35 and 9.70 seconds for the two-, three- and four-person teams (see attached PDFs for Saturday’s results), the fastest time was unanimously ceded to Leonard Lookner, a well-loved Camden leader, who passed away last weekend.
In his honor, the Toboggan National Committee sent an empty toboggan down the chute, and it sped like lightning across the pond, kicking up a powder of white snow.
The first day of Toboggan Nationals, (in local jargon, simply known as the “Toboggans”) went off without a hitch. Thousands made their way to the Camden Snow Bowl, in trucks, vans and cars, or on the school buses that were shuttling spectators from downtown Camden to the Snow Bowl. They carried their sleds, costumes, and enough eating and drinking supplies to last through the weekend. Some had come from as far as California to compete, many came from just down the road.
Some took tents, small cabins and other unique structures onto the ice, and other set up their camps up in Tobogganville, which, by noontime, had evolved into the grassroots human settlement that is unique to the Toboggan Nationals. Fire pits, lawn chairs, tables, stoves and fire pits, and lots of good cheer spread across the pond, as the toboggans continued to hurtle down the hill.
Chute Master Stuart Young had ensured that the old wooden chute was well iced and as smooth as glass for the competitors. The cold temperatures — starting at 4-7 degrees F early in the morning — held through the day, with promises of a steady cold lingering overnight and into Sunday.
Meanwhile, next door on the ski slopes, skiers were taking advantage of the new snow that had been falling over the last several days.
At last, winter had arrived on the Midcoast, and the tempo of the day was “just right,” agreed many who spent time around the chute.
The Toboggan Nationals begin again at 9 a.m. Sunday. They were streamed live on Community Television Station Channel 7 all day Saturday.
Camden's modern-day tradition of Winterfest dates back 15 years, but the idea originally started in 1936 with Camden's Winter Carnival. The winter festivities of the 1930s and early 40s included toboggan rides, skating races, figure skating contests, and an icy throne for the Queen of the Winter Carnival and her attending court.
Festivities at the original Winter Carnival took place around town and at the Camden Snow Bowl, just as they do today. The original Camden Snow Bowl lodge, built in 1936 and since burned down, was a cozy place to warm up by the fire. Contests were also a popular feature of the carnival for many years – horse races (skijoring), wood sawing contests, trap shooting, and even "potato races on the ice," according to Camden Town Historian Barbara Dyer.
The Outing Club was the organizer of the original Winter Carnival, which ran until 1941 after which the war put things to an end.
The modern Winterfest includes community ice carving festivities, the Maine State Snow Sculpture Championships, a live music concert, movies and a puppet show for kids, the CamJam ski and snowboard exhibition, and then the annual U.S. National Toboggan Championships.
Begun in 1991 as a way to celebrate the reopening of the then-newly refurbished chute and dedication to the “Godfather of the Chute,” Jack Williams, the 27th annual Toboggan Nationals ran Friday-Sunday, Feb. 10-12, 2017. Its partner event series, Camden Winterfest, kicked off Feb. 4, with a weekend full of family activities downtown for everyone and continues through the week, culminating in a downtown dance with the band Mid Life Crisis.
If you have photos or videos to share of yourself, your family and friends enjoying any of the myriad events across the nine days of Winterfest and Toboggan Nationals, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and include where you live and your contact information.