CAMDEN — “There are some teams that I think intentionally try to mess with me in the pronunciation of their names,” said Toboggan Nationals announcer Tom Dowd, a week before the Camden Snow Bowl’s biggest event of year is to take place. “There is one name – it took me a couple of years to actually pronounce it.”
The Navy Seal team behind that name — Sockwajiweg — returns to the U.S. National Toboggan Championship in Camden, Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 8, 9 and 10.
Dowd returns, as well, to his computer monitor within the announcer’s shed just to the side of the chute, ready to dish his unique sense of humor, laughter, and to announce team Sockwajiweg, and hundreds of others.
“The team names are a blast,” he said, though he believes some names walk a fine line on appropriateness, especially those play-on-words to the ash wood in the sleds.
The goofiest ones Dowd remembers: Yay Unicorn Yay.
”Like where would you come up with that? It’s so benign, and it’s such a chuckle because everyone is like ‘what’s that?’”
Other favorites of his: Ice Scream.
“You know ‘I scream’ and then they all start screaming when they come down.”
And Rocky Balboggan, Sweaty Krueger, Should I slay or should I go? and Chute, I’m fast.
Dowd estimates that he spends between 15 and 20 hours talking during each year’s event.
Yet, he was already a public speaker when he accepted the gig 10 years ago.
Ten years ago, as his two daughters participated in the Snow Bowl’s Friday ski program, Dowd stood and cheered from the sideline. The ‘sub-zero’ temperatures needled him, and he started looking for solutions.
“I will do anything to get in that timing hut,” he told the Snow Bowl. “I am a professional speaker. I’ll be glad to help in that way if you can get me some heat.”
For the ski program, all positions in the shed were filled, but Ken Bailey needed help in the Toboggan shed.
Also in that shed are two people who are dedicated to timing. One stays in communication with the top of the hill to ensure the safety of the riders. One monitors the timing itself to make sure that it’s functioning correctly.
“And they allow me to see a monitor so I don’t have to keep turning my head back and forth to the top and the bottom of the hill, and so I can stay in touch with what teams are there, the times they are going,” Down said. “And, you can see how people are ranking as the fastest, or where they rank among the other sledders.”
For a year or two, Dowd apprenticed before using a bit of Bailey insight in hamming it up, and generating a following of his own.
“So entertaining,” Dowd said of Bailey. “He made it very clear that your job is to entertain the crowd. Sarcasm is absolutely encouraged.”
Toboggan Nationals chairwoman Holly Anderson attested to Dowd’s quickness with both both sarcasm and entertaining.
A week before costumed and exuberant competitors slide the toboggan chute in Camden, test runs commenced.
With only a few people on hand, relative tranquility prevailed amid the mountain setting.
The woods were quiet, young spruce stood undisturbed. And then, as Camden Snow Bowl snowmaker and all-around helper Owen Dorr pointed out, the rumble comes.
Up top, Stuart Young releases the plank upon which teams of two, three, four competitors perch. The plank tilts down, sending the front of the sled falling with a whack to the chute of rough ice.
Some scream. Some moan. Some make no sound at all.
Only an inch or two separates the sled from the rails. Bumping along the way is expected, though not exactly welcome at speeds upward of 40 mph.
Sometimes, while onstage, Public Speaker Tom Dowd mentions his side gig as announcer to the U.S. National Toboggan, “and the crowd goes nuts,” he said.
“They are like, ‘what’s that?’ Then you start saying, well you go down this 6- to 8-foot piece of wood…in the middle of February… and it’s fun.”
Fun is the happy chatter of attendees, participants, and workers who reminisce of childhood antics.
Fun is the thunder of the steel drum band commissioned to hail the costume parade next week.
Fun is the ability to add ‘Nationals Champion” to your resume, as Dowd’s daughter now does, having been a part of a high school girls team, making their own sled and racing it to a win.
This year, as many as 400 teams from around the world will pay to brave the 440-ft toboggan chute, laughing, screaming, or stunned to silence.
The public also gets a chance, Friday, Feb. 8, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at a fee of $5 per person. Racers may also practice for free during this time.
“There’s a whole crowd that likes to stand right in front of the shed, because they can see everyone right in the windows,” Anderson said. “And they just laugh right along with them.”
As Dowd said, people return to the Toboggan Nationals each year for the fun of it.
“It’s a chance to get people together who maybe haven’t been around for awhile,” he said. “It’s a chance to get out of the house. It’s a chance to just be entertained.”
Dowd, though, makes clear that he apologizes to the crowd ahead of time.
Because, yes, they spend a lot of time laughing.
Reach Sarah Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org