by Chris Chase
Coastal Journal staff
CAMDEN — The National Toboggan Championships were held over the weekend, bringing thousands of people and nearly 425 teams to the town of Camden to compete for glory, trophies, and above all else, bragging rights.
The competition, which had to be condensed into one day due to the massive snowstorm, may have been a bit delayed, but it didn’t seem to hurt the turnout, which sprawled across the Camden Recreation Center and Hosmer Pond.
Although the snow made things more difficult and destroyed one of the structures set up by Lyman-Morse for attendees, the chute and pathways were set and groomed well before competitions began.
The “Chutemaster,” Stuart Young, made sure that the ice on the chute was all set and ready to go in the week prior to the big day.
“I’ve spent about 25 hours in the past week getting the ice ready,” said Young, who has been working on the chute for over a decade.
That chute gives anyone brave enough to step into it a 43 mph ride down a steep wooden slide and several hundred feet out onto Hosmer Pond. Once the green flag was raised and the chute was ready, Young jerked the lever and dropped the teams down the chute as fast as he could. With hundreds of teams competing on Sunday, there was no time for second thoughts.
“We’re setting them up as fast as we can,” said Young, who would drop teams in with nary a warning.
According to Young, the fastest time he had ever seen was 8.3 seconds. Sunday’s times didn’t come close, for one reason or another.
“In the end, it’s just a crapshoot,” said Young.
Each toboggan is inspected to ensure that it fits the rules. Toboggans are divided into two categories, traditional and experimental. Traditionals tend to fit the image of a classic toboggan and have to fit certain material requirements. Experimentals are much more varied, with a variety of materials and techniques used in order to make them as fast as possible.
Tom Cox has the honor of being chief inspector, and doesn’t let a toboggan go by without first taking careful measurements to make sure it is the right size and is under 50 pounds.
“We measure lengths, widths – basically just make sure they comply with the rules,” said Cox. “We’re probably inspecting 600 sleds. Some teams bring five or six sleds.”
In addition to the sled’s construction, teams use a variety of materials to coat the bottom of their sleds in order to squeeze out as much speed as they can. Cox makes sure that the materials fit regulations and don’t ruin the chute.
“The only restriction is that it has to be adhered to the sled,” said Cox. “Most use the high tech ski waxes.”
Although many of the teams are there to take home the trophy, others are there purely for fun. Several residents of Holland flew in on Thursday to attend the competition, with their team christened as the “Royal Dutch National Toboggan Team.” It was their fifth year in attendance at the competition.
“We make this an international compeition,” said Jacques Verest, one of the team members.
The four-man team was bedecked in massive, elaborate costumes dedicated to their royalty, complete with hats topped with large whistles.
“We weren’t fast enough, so we had to compensate,” said Rob Vrolijk, another team member, with a laugh.
The difference between “fast enough” and “not quite” was narrow. The Lyman-Morse team, which makes custom sleds, had a four-man team and managed to qualify in first. The difference between their time and those as many as 20 places down the list was often less than a tenth of a second.
“It’s just a ton of fun,” said Jason Kaler, a member of the Lyman-Morse team. The boat-building company turns out every year, and brings large tent structures complete with heat and hospitality. “It’s kind of like a big party with tobogganing thrown in.”
Most of the crowds gravitated to Tobogganville, a temporary “town” made up of ice shacks and structures thrown up by attendees.
“Tobogganville is larger than the town of Camden,” said Young. “Tobogganville is a place where an adult can come and be a kid for one weekend a year.”
After the competition is over, the structures will be packed up, the attendees will go home, and tobogganville will disappear for another year. But the chute will remain, and for $5 an hour on weekends anyone can take a few rides down it and feel a bit of the magic return.
“You can get a lot of runs in if you hustle back up the hill,” said Young.