MONTVILLE, Maine — Somewhere on Hogback Mountain, up a rutted, unplowed road, a major sporting event happened Saturday.
It was the sixth annual New England Runner Sledding Championships, a homegrown good time that attracts an enthusiastic crowd. More than 75 people watched and cheered in a light snowfall as competitors raced to determine who would be the next to hold the title of the Fastest Runner Sledder in All the Land.
“It’s just a great, laid-back, Waldo County event,” said Meg Fournier of Jackson. “There’s nothing like it.”
After the shot from the starting rifle rang out in the chilly air, a total of 16 men flung themselves down the hillside on old-style, wood and metal runner sleds. They raced two at a time to the finish line, and then the winners hiked back up for the next heat, holding their sleds and smiling.
“It’s fast. It’s a blast,” said competitor Trevor McAvey of Belfast. “You’re only four inches off the ground. You’re doing 25 to 30 miles per hour. It’s pretty intense.”
Event organizer G.W. Martin of Montville said he began sledding when he was a kid, when an “old feller” who lived down the road would take him sliding at night.
“In high school, all we did was runner sled,” the 33-year-old enthusiast said.
Although he got away from sledding for a while, he returned with a vengeance as an adult, with the aim to keep the old sport from fading away.
“Don’t throw away that old runner sled you’ve got in your barn,” he urged. “The best way to preserve them is to ride them. Part of my goal is to save these old sleds.”
Some of the sleds used by competitors were nearly 100 years old. They looked it, too, with a utilitarian appearance that seemed light-years away from the bright colored plastic sleds that come from a more recent generation.
The sleds were made for transportation as well as for entertainment, and the best models date back to the days before World War II, Martin said.
The steel used then was cleaner and harder.
“It was much faster,” he said.
That’s important, because the sleds create enough friction in the snow that they actually run on a thin film of water.
And even though a scarcity of snow this winter meant that Martin did not do the publicity he usually does before the races, the snow that fell Friday night meant there was enough.
“Mother Nature’s going to provide,” Martin said.
One onlooker had so much fun he said he would like to export the event to his home state of Wisconsin.
T.C. Allen of Rockland, Wisc., was wearing a cheese hat as he cheered the sledders as they zoomed downhill. He said he came to Maine just for this event, which he heard about on the Internet.
“I came to check it out. I had to represent Wisconsin,” he said.
He recently became interested in sledding, and has a sled that dates back to the 1970s — which he learned in Maine is just not old enough.
“I’ll be back next year with a new sled. An old sled, I should say,” Allen said, adding that he has enjoyed the camaraderie of the competitors. “I love it. I’ll definitely be back. I want to start one in Wisconsin like this.”
The 2012 winner was Brian Trahan, who beat G.W. Martin in a close finish. Scott Kady came in third, and Trevor McAvey came in fourth.