In the dead of winter, it seems like the easiest parts of living in Maine have been buried by snow. What is left — such as black branches bereft of summer greenery — can be stark, difficult and much, much colder.
Sore shoveling muscles? Check.
Minimal sunshine? Check.
Frozen pipes? Check.
That is why I can’t wait for the carnival excitement, festivity, color and fun of the U.S. National Toboggan Championships Feb. 11-13 at the Camden Snow Bowl.
For one weekend each winter, the slopes of Ragged Mountain ring with the sounds of clanking cowbells — and shrieking — as thousands of people cheer the intrepid sledders on their rides down the iced-up, wooden chute.
After the exhilarating 400-foot downhill plummet, the toboggans pop out onto the ice of Hosmer Pond, the riders often smiling as broadly as the spectators. It’s a competitive event — really it is. After all, where else can a regular person become world champion of anything?
But mostly, it’s a spectacle composed of pure joy and silliness.
Teams deck themselves out in costumes — entries in recent years have included nuns in full habits, feathery flocks of chickens and white-wrapped loaves of Wonder Bread. They give themselves nutty names. Then they take their toboggans to the top of the wooden chute and wait for the countdown, and they are off.
People come to watch and they also come to enjoy the atmosphere. Wood smoke hangs heavy, and hungry visitors can feast on chili, enjoy steaming cups of warm beverages, listen to bands and get warmed by a bonfire.
New this year: a buffet and a cash bar.
Even when your toes are starting to feel a bit numb — I recommend wearing the warmest boots and heaviest wool socks possible — your heart will be warmed by the thrills, chills and spills at the toboggan chute.
To get there: Because parking at the Camden Snow Bowl is limited — and costs $5 a car — organizers encourage use of the free shuttle bus, which will run every 20 minutes on Saturday and Sunday. The bus stops at the Knox Mill and Camden Public Safety parking lots, as well as the Village Green. For more information, visit www.camdensnowbowl.com or call 236-3438.