CAMDEN, Maine — A team of tall Dutch men, painted blue and lost, they said, on their way to the Sochi Olympics, hurtled down the 400-foot long chute to Hosmer Pond on Saturday morning at the 24th annual U.S. National Toboggan Championships.
Their time, alas, was “not so good,” said Jacques Verest.
Beneath a 2-foot bright blue stuffed cone-shaped cap, Verest, who came from Osterhout, Holland, to Camden for the sixth year in a row, blamed the glue the team slathered on the bottom of the wooden sled this year.
“And we didn’t practice much,” he said, smiling. “It’s not as good tobogganing in the Dutch hills.”
Tyler Alley, 23, saw not only his first toboggan, but his first snow this weekend, in Camden from Little Rock, Ark., to race down the chute with friends from Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago.
Their team, “I Got Sleighed,” joined 424 other two-, three- and four-person crews who launched their toboggans from a wooden platform high above an estimated 9,000 revelers gathered at the Camden Snow Bowl Saturday for the yearly winter festival. Those with the best times Saturday competed Sunday for the championship.
Saturday’s bright, sunny skies, 20-degree temperature and little wind, were “perfect,” said Holly Edwards, chairwoman of the toboggan committee.
Proceeds from the event — including the $30-per-person entrance fee and $10 parking — benefit the municipally owned Snow Bowl, which earns $40,000 to $60,000, according to Edwards.
For the first time this year, the chute was open on Friday for practice runs and for two- and three-person teams could take their first qualifying run. Along with a beer and wine tasting event, Friday night drew quite a few people, Edwards said. Organizers hope in future years to segue Camden’s Winterfest weekend — this year Feb. 1-2 — into the toboggan championships for a weeklong winter festival.
On Saturday, the toboggan party was well-underway by midmorning, with shacks, tents and yurts lining the chute that empties onto Hosmer Pond and fire pits warming onlookers. As the Planet Pan Steelband tuned up to serenade a costume parade, a sequined Elvis serenaded spectators, brave souls rode a mechanical bull and crowds of costumed competitors listened to a loudspeaker, waiting for their team to be called up to the chute.
There, they’d queue to a wooden launch pad, accordion their team onto the long toboggan and, after a moment’s wait just long enough to reconsider, find their sled launched down the chute at speeds hovering around 35 miles per hour.
“It’s something to do in the winter,” said Bob Murphy of Topsham, whose team, “Wicked Good Sleddin’,” arrived on Thursday to set up a large, heated plywood shelter complete with kitchen, in a prime spot on the ice.
Six-year-old C.J. Briere, clad in a fur-lined hood and bright pink cheeks, walked off the course after racing down the chute for the first time. His eyes, and those of his sister, Carlie Briere, 5, sparkled in the sun.
The Brieres, who drove up Friday from Weston, Mass., clocked in at 9 minutes, 36 seconds on the best of two runs Saturday. Mom Jennifer Briere said she was nervous about letting the kids race, but the course this year wasn’t as icy as previous runs, John Briere said.
“It was awesome,” C.J. said, as their dad towed them off the ice to warm up.
Team “Bosom Buddies” made their way off the ice not long after, donning bedazzled pink T-shirts over warm winter layers.
All members of the Camden-Rockport High School Class of 1966, the three 65-year-old women reunited this year to hurtle down the chute and recall years past.
“It’s not nearly as terrible as I remembered,” Barbara Simonton, now of Virginia, said.
And the race, said Camden resident Pam Tibbetts, “was on our bucket list.”
The events continue Sunday with additional qualifying runs beginning at 9 a.m., final runs for all teams starting at noon and an awards ceremony at 3 p.m.
Two Person Division
First place, No. 5, Two Wingnuts, 8.80, 8.90, 17.78
Second place, No. 1, BOLT Resolute, 9, 8.95, 17.95
Third place, No. 2, Spudrunner 2, 8.98, 9.05, 18.03
Three Person Division (Best qualifying time for tie-breaker)
First place, No. 137, Absolute Zeros, 8.91, 8.9, 17.81 (BQT 8.81)
Second place, No. 151, BOLT 8 – 8.92, 8.89, 17.81 (BQT 8.82)
Third place, No. 147, Kennebec Ash Waxers, 8.89, 8.93, 17.82
Four Person Division (Best qualifying time for tie-breaker)
First place, No. 322, Instigator, 8.8, 8.84, 17.64
Second place, No. 232 BOLT 5, 8.87, 8.81, 17.68 (BQT 8.80)
Third place, No. 310 Not All There, 8.85, 8.83, 17.68 (BQT 8.85)
Fastest Kid’s Team
No. 273, Rockport Rockets, 9.17
Fastest High School Team
No. 101, Deedles 3, 8.96
Fastest Female Team
No. 280, Fastest Ash on Ice, 8.95
Fastest College Team
No. 210, Bolt #1 (Virginia Wesleyan), 8.88
First place, No. 43, Double Dutch
Second place, No. 407, Snow Rebel IPA
Third place, No. 107, PT Cruiser
Best Crafted Toboggan
No. 306, 4 LO (Don Ritchie)
No. 48, Two Pounds, average age 71.5