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It doesn’t look that steep at first.
It’s not until the chute operator lifts the safety bar and the nose of your sled begins to tip forward on its elevated platform that you get a momentary glimpse of the impending, ice-packed slide down the mountain.
But by then, you’re tucked into the front end of a wooden toboggan, another rider’s snow boots in your lap and his legs like a trap around your waist, both of you caught in that slow-motion second before stationary turns into slingshot.
Okay, maybe calling it a “slingshot” is a bit much, but I assure you, 40 MPH on a toboggan feels pretty darn fast.
Competitors in the U.S. National Toboggan Championships, taking place Feb. 10 to 12 at the Camden Snow Bowl, will find out first hand what it’s like to rumble down the 400-foot-long chute and coast out onto a frozen pond. First timers might focus on their costuming (a cape and a pair of underpants are a surefire hit) and hitting the finish line without losing knuckle flesh to the unforgiving wooden chute walls.
Returning riders will want to go faster.
There are tricks to enhancing a toboggan’s performance. There must be. But I don’t know any of them because competitors tends to keep tight-lipped about their trade secrets prior to race weekend.
With 417 teams expected to participate in the two-person, three-person, four-person and experimental categories, the annual championships require teams to consider minute tobogganing details, from aerodynamic positioning to greasing the sled. And they’ll word tirelessly to perfect their form…in the two minutes before race time.
And they’ll dress up in Civil War regalia.
And they’ll dress up. Oh, how they’ll dress up!
Jim Jefferson of Searsport, a three-time toboggan champion, did offer some tips.
“The guy with the beard goes in front. He breaks the wind,” he said. As for the best product to slick up a sled, he says he prefers skunk oil.
Teams with the best times during the preliminaries on Feb. 11 will return Feb. 12 for the finals.
Winners receive two prizes: a trophy and bragging rights for the year.
In addition to the toboggan runs, the three-day schedule includes a bonfire, food vendors, music, a chowder challenge, fireworks over Camden Harbor, children’s activities, mechanical bull rides and a pancake breakfast. The Camden Snow Bowl will also be open for skiing, snowboarding and tubing.
Registration for the event has closed, but the public is welcome to watch the tobogganing and enjoy the festivities. A free shuttle service will be available to attendees.
FOR MORE Information about the U.S. National Toboggan Championships can be found at www.camdensnowbowl.com.
FOR A HELMET CAM view of the experience, check out this video by our digital visuals specialist Gabe Souza: