ROCKPORT — On Monday, the guys finally found the sled tucked in the back corner of the garage, beneath the Mercury outboard. They hauled out the 10-foot-long toboggan, stretching it over a board that rested on top of a tool box and an old four wheeler with a few tires missing. This was the operating theater, where, for the next five days there would be a lot of waxing, adjusting, analyzing, speculating, and general BS-ing. Showtime for the U.S. National Toboggan Championships at the Camden Snow Bowl was fast on the approach, and Team Weekend at Ewie’s had a lot to do to get ready.... Kind of.
“See this scratch here,” said Ewie Greet, to no one and everyone, running his finger lightly over a slight groove in the bottom of the sled.
“That won’t slow you down,” said one of his teammates.
“Yeah, it will,” Greet replied. “It is supposed to be smooth as glass.”
It was Monday afternoon, and the team — consisting of Greet, Matt Haynes, Glen Wiley — were assembling in the garage of Seacoast Security, on Route 90 in Rockport. Fourth team member Darren Rossiter would be there on Wednesday; the four would gather every evening of the week for a few hours, joined by friends and relatives dropping by to see how progress on the sled was coming along.
The Toboggan Nationals officially begin Friday afternoon with a few first runs, but the real action starts Saturday morning at the chute at the Camden Snow Bowl and on the ice of Hosmer Pond. It is the 24th year of an annual high spirited competition that breaks the midwinter blues to smithereens. Hotels, motels, B&Bs and couches at friends’ homes throughout the region fill up with participants and onlookers who come to celebrate the speed of the sled down an icy chute, and other things.
This past week, pickup trucks topped with toboggans began rolling into town, and in garages throughout the state and beyond, work was commencing on the sleds (see map below for an indication of where participants are coming from this year).
For locals like those racing with Team Weekend at Ewie’s, the races are just fun; but as the excitement gathers steam, the competitive nature kicks into gear and they being talking strategy and tactics.
“Where else can you get to a U.S. national event,” said Haynes, of Thomaston.
“It gets us closer to March madness,” said Greet.
“The chute, that’s where everybody is,” said Wiley, a Lincolnville resident. “There’s more people there than the rest of the winter.”
Greet has been running the chute for the past 15 years; he’s the seasoned pro. This would be the first time for Wiley. The two others have raced with Greet over the years, sometimes placing fourth, sometimes 12th, sometimes 56th.
For this particular sled — No. 395 produced by Dave Nazaroff’s Camden Toboggan Company (read about the enterprise in Boston Magazine) — it is the fourth year for Greet’s team. Prior to that, Seacoast Security had another sled, but it disintegrated. One year, as the Slippery Presidents, they had to borrow a sled from the Big Kahunas and they came in “17th hundreds of a second out of first place to come in fourth,” said Greet. But something happened and they didn’t.
The team’s name Weekend at Ewie’s is fairly self evident: “Stop by on a Sunday morning, and you’ll find someone sleeping by the wood stove, someone else on the floor,” said Greet. “There aren’t enough places to sleep and guys are scattered all over the place.”
But that’s all about relaxation, when they might be kicking back and watching Temp Tales on YouTube. This week, it was all business for the team. Sort of. A snowstorm arrived Wednesday, forcing Greet to tend to his 65 snow-plowing contracts scattered between Camden, Union and Northport; likewise, Wiley had a bunch of driveways to plow.
The pressing question Wednesday night was how to make the sled heavier, therefore faster down the chute.
The sled cannot weigh more than 50 pounds, so the goal is to get it close to that mark but not over.
“We could put a two-stroke on the back,” said Rossiter.
They talked seriously about putting sheets of a special weight to the sled, although they declined to publicly identify the material.
Toboggan racers are a discreet group. They do not talk about their secrets and tricks of the trade. But they do use wax — 15 to 20 coats of it. They just won’t tell you what kind.
If the wax can runs dry at the chute pit, they might go over to see Charlie Pearson at the ski shack at the bottom of mountain for help.
But by Wednesday evening, Team Weekend at Ewies had solved a major issue: one of the slats on the toboggan had lost a screw and the plank was edging upward. The toboggan is constructed from ash, a pliable wood that, when steamed, is able to be to be curved. But the sled planks are reinforced by cross slats, held together by screws. Keeping those screws in place is a constant challenge for the racers because the vibration and the constant hammering the sled takes as it flies down the chute and bangs onto the hard pond ice continuously knocks them loose.
“Our other sled vibrated apart,” said Greet.
He said they were considering urethaning the screws and slats tightly into place.
“We got the Makita out,” he said. “But, we’re running out of time. It won’t dry. We decided we would over-wax instead.”
“Two screws are loose,” he clarified.
“That’s not the name of the team,” said Haynes.
And they applied their secret wax, over and over again. As it dried, they took a blue cloth to shine the finish.
Was it a special type of chamois material?
“It’s a paper shop towel,” said Rossiter. “But you can call it chamois if you want.”
In the background, Dylan Smith and Marshall Haynes roamed around. In their early 20s, they had never competed in the Nationals, but they came to see what it might involve. The team’s Pit Master Travis Brown checked in, but ended up being more amused by a copy of the Lincolnville Fire Department’s 2014 calendar that lay on the workbench.
“I haven’t seen this, yet,” he said.
The team talked a little about the costumes they might not put on (thongs and yoga pants constituted one suggestion), but agreed that the clothes they were now wearing would suffice.
They talked a little about the food they might eat, and agreed the best strategy was to hang by the Big Kahunas’ place, where moose chili would be plentiful.
“We’re kind of like the Picnic Bears,” said Greet.
This year, the campsite Team Weekend at Ewie’s will be in the main walkway, just up the hill from the Porta-Potties.
They talked about when to make their first run. That would be toward the middle to end of the day, when the chute would be colder and faster. The layers of ice, they know from experience, would wear off the chute after the first of the morning runs. There would be no rush, and they would keep an eye on the line at the top of the chute.
“I think it’s all about the time you run down the chute,” said Greet. “Sometimes it’s colder at first, or sometimes there’s leftover stupid wax on the chute.”
The old guys — Greet and Wiley — would sit in the middle of the sled. The young guys — Haines and Rossiter — would be the bumpers. Rossiter’s big rubber boots would cushion them at the front.
And they continued to wax, and BS, and wax.
How late would they go prepping the sled?
“Tonight we may go until midnight,” said Wiley.
“Really,” said Rossiter.
“Or until the wife calls,” said Haynes.
“Which might be about 7,” said Rossiter.
In any event, they continued working on the toboggan. I think they are going to do great.
Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 207-706-6657)