Tons of fun at toboggan championships

Posted Feb. 07, 2009, at 6 p.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — Accompanied by the clank of cowbells, the Saturday afternoon competitors in the 19th annual U.S. National Toboggan Championships at the Snow Bowl giggled and screamed their way down the 400-foot chute of ice.

Some crave for glory. Others have a smaller, more heartfelt goal.

“We’re hoping just to make it out alive,” said Carmen Felix of Camden, clad in a nun’s habit.

“Amen to that, sister!” said Pam Moyer of South Thomaston, who wore a giant cross around her neck.

Both women were racing with the “Holy Smokes” team.

“We’re having a great time,” Moyer said.

About 370 teams from as far away as California will participate in the two day affair, which brings thousands of people to the ski mountain and has become an economic engine of the area’s winter economy.

“We thought it would be successful just because it’s weird,” said event founder Ken Bailey, who was announcing the races. “Also, there’s the fact that anybody can become a national champion. All you need is a toboggan and some luck.”

While riders in the speediest sled of the two-day affair will legitimately be dubbed the new national champions, silliness seemed even more important than speed in the carnival-like atmosphere around the toboggan run.

Alicia McKenney’s eyes looked steely under her chicken hat. When she moved, a cloud of yellow feathers drifted off her costume to settle in the snow around her feet.

“We want to win for the best costume,” McKenney said. “I want one of those trophies bad.”

Her team, called “Peace Be The Journey,” almost never made it up to the Snow Bowl. McKenney said that she had ordered a toboggan from L.L. Bean but the company sent her a wooden chair in the mail instead. When she called to have the mistake fixed, theFreeport mail-order giant said that they were sold out of toboggans until next fall.

Disaster.

But McKenney was undaunted. She posted an all-points bulletin for a toboggan on the Internet classified ad serv-ice Craigslist, and hit pay dirt when a Warren man responded. He was a die-hard competitor, but was laid low by surgery this year and couldn’t participate — and so decided to lend his hand-made toboggan to the chickens from southern Maine.

The team had never even made a practice run together, but they had the costumes, and they had the toboggan, and said they were ready.

“We’re virgin chickens — this is the real deal,” McKenney said. “You’ll probably hear us squawking.”

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