CAMDEN, Maine — There will be formal ceremonies, world-class athletes and blinding media glare when the Winter Olympics open in Vancouver. Across the continent in Maine, they’ve swapped the formalities for frivolity at the National Toboggan Championships.
The 20th annual event that kicked off Saturday featured participants in outrageous outfits and old-school wooden toboggans. Teams had names like Redneck Racers, Knuckleheads, Runaway Brides and Sliding Jesuits. Even the Maine State Prison staff entered a team: MSP Paddywagon.
In other words, there’s none of the stuffiness of the Olympics.
“It’s much more of a party than the Olympics. There’s a huge tailgate party associated with it,” said Jeff Kuller, general manager of the Camden Snow Bowl, where the event is held. Competitors mingle with one another and the competition is more laid-back than breakneck.
Participants come from far and wide for the opportunity to race down the 400-foot chute. There are 400 teams this year, including participants from Austria and Denmark.
There are few rules other than the fact that the toboggan must be made of wood — the same style of out-of-control sled favored by Calvin and Hobbes of comic strip fame.
The teams hit a top speed of about 40 mph in the ice-covered wooden chute, just wide enough for a toboggan. That may not impress Olympic athletes, but it’s fast enough for teams that range from serious competitors to others who’ll be riding a toboggan for the first time in their lives.
The competition is held to raise money for the Camden Snow Bowl, a nonprofit, municipally owned ski area on 1,300-foot Ragged Mountain and one of very few in North America that offer ocean views from the trails. The toboggan chute dates to the 1930s and has been rebuilt twice, most recently in 1990.