Faces, sights and sounds: A day at the U.S. National Toboggan Championships

Mon, 02/10/2014 - 12:15am

    CAMDEN — Bright blue skies made just about everybody’s day on Saturday, Feb. 8, at the Camden Snow Bowl. Participants and spectators, locals and visitors, all blended into one big crowd moving up and down the hill by the toboggan chute, and on the frozen Hosmer Pond, now covered with enough snow for good traction.

    There were no blizzards (like last year), nor was it raining. It wasn’t too warm and it wasn’t frigid; in fact, the weather was just about perfect, with temperatures in the low 20s.

    The toboggan championships are a major event for Camden, an effort that relies on volunteers and Snow Bowl staff, who work almost year-round to keep it running smoothly. Income from nationals represents more than 10 percent of the entire annual budget of the Snow Bowl.  There are 425 teams and approximately 1,300 participants, with a spectator base of more than 6,000 over two days of spirited competition.

    The original toboggan chute dates back to 1936, when the Camden Outing Club held its second winter carnival on Hosmer Pond.  The original chute was built by volunteers who also built a ski lodge and ski hill, one of the earliest in America. The chute was rebuilt in 1954 by local Coast Guardsmen and lasted until 1964 when it was brought to an end because of rot and neglect.In the late 1950s, the toboggan chute fell into disrepair and the Coast Guard stepped in to administer the rebuild.  Over subsequent years the wooden chute deteriorated again and in 1990 Jack Williams organized a rebuilding committee to bring the chute back to life for a third time. 

    Work to renew the chute was finished on January 5, 1991 and two weeks later a dedication ceremony named it the Jack R. Williams Toboggan Chute.  A month later, on February 24, 1991 the first US National Toboggan Championships were held at the Snow Bowl.  It was an event created by the Camden Parks and Recreation Director, Ken Bailey. 

    The U.S. National Toboggan Championships is the only organized wooden toboggan ace in the country and possibly the world.

    The week before the race many hours are spent during the night, when it is the coldest, to coat the wooden chute with layer upon layer of ice. This is accomplished by a "Rube Goldberg" invention of David Dickey, which pulleys a tub up the chute to slowly dispense water from holes in its back.

    The chute is 400 feet in elevation, and speeds up to 40 miles per hour are attained. 

    The Nationals used to be held the first weekend of February, but to avoid conflict with the Super Bowl the date was changed to the second weekend in February, starting in 2008.

    Parking at the Snow Bowl is limited, and the lot fills up by around 10 a.m. Parking is $8 per vehicle. Four shuttle buses have been hired to shuttle racers and spectators to and from downtown and the Snow Bowl, and it’s a $2 round-trip on the bus. Riding the shuttle bus is highly encouraged and all efforts have been made to ensure it’s a quick, pleasant ride and that buses are constantly available at both ends of the route. Pickup downtown is at the Village Green on Elm Street and pickup at the Snow Bowl is near the tennis courts.


    SUNDAY, FEB. 9

    8 a.m.-4 p.m. — Bus shuttle service from downtown Camden, shuttle pick-up at the Village Green, $2 roundtrip.
    9 a.m. — SECOND RUNS for 4-person teams (Second run is optional for fast times)
    9 a.m.-4 p.m. — Snow Bowl open for skiing, snowboarding and tubing
    11 a.m. — SECOND RUNS for experimental division (Second run is optional for fast times)
    Noon — FINAL RUNS, in the following order: (Two runs are REQUIRED for all finalists)

    - Top 25 – 2-person teams
    - Top 25 – 3-person teams
    - Top 50 – 4-person teams
    - Top 25 percent – Experimental teams

    3 p.m. — Award ceremonies and drawings - Tobogganville. Awards are given to the top three teams in each division, plus special awards for: experimental division, best costume, oldest team, fastest team, fastest women's team, fastest children's team, fastest high school team, fastest college team and best crafted toboggan.