CAMDEN, Maine — The chute was icy, the bleachers were ready, and Hosmer Pond — where toboggan racers eventually slide to a halt — was frozen solid.
All that was missing from the Camden Snow Bowl on Thursday were the thousands of spectators and hundreds of teams who will congregate here starting today for the 20th annual U.S. National Toboggan Championships.
“Right here is Tobogganville,” said chute master Stuart Young, gesturing around the almost-deserted hillside where he and a few others were putting the finishing touches on the chute. “Population 1. This weekend, it’ll be 5,000.”
This year’s event will look more like a winter carnival than ever with a chili and chowder challenge at lunchtime Saturday, fireworks at 5:30 that afternoon and an Audio Body performance that evening at the Camden Opera House.
Friday’s events include a spaghetti supper at the Rockport Masonic Center, while Sunday’s activities include the national and world championship finals for the toboggan racers.
“It’s a nice event,” Young said. “It’s turned into a fun thing to do in the wintertime.”
Would-be racers who have procrastinated and put off registration are out of luck, he said. For the first time in many years, the racing schedule is completely full — with a 20-team waiting list.
The more than 400 toboggan teams come from all over New England and Michigan, Maryland, California and many other states.
There are college teams and even a man from the Netherlands, Young has heard. “He’s said to be the champion toboggan racer of Amsterdam,” Young said. “It’s like a World Cup thing now.”
Racers and spectators should see the same safety precautions that were in place last year, when race officials successfully avoided a repeat of the 2008 toboggan crash, which injured six participants. Those precautions include increased communication, a mechanical arm that physically blocks sleds from moving to the launching platform until the all-clear has been signaled and a flagger on the ice at Hosmer Pond. “The Coast Guard’s going to help with safety,” Young said.
Toboggan officials also have put some low fencing around parts of the chute to help with crowd control. Those crowds help raise funds for the town-owned recreation area. Last year, the 19th annual event raised more than $40,000.
Although parking fees help raise part of that, Dan Bookham, the executive director of the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce, is encouraging spectators to park downtown and take the free shuttle bus to the Snow Bowl.
“Get a bite to eat in Camden, see the shops, and then head to the championships,” Bookham said.
While the wacky costumes, music groups playing on the pond and the carnival-like atmosphere are great reasons to check out the 20th annual championships, the 400-foot-long downhill slide is something that also should be experienced, Young said.
The chute — which has been rebuilt three times — was first constructed in 1936. In the 1980s, Jack Williams had the idea to rebuild the rotten chute, and then Ken Bailey, who still announces the races, came up with the idea for a national championship, Young said.
“It’s an old-fashioned ride,” he said. “It’s a rush.”
Information and a schedule of events may be found at the Web site www.camdensnowbowl.com.