Despite recent high temperatures and virtually no snow cover in the midcoast region, the Camden Winterfest and U.S. National Toboggan Championships will go on as planned, kicking off on Saturday, Jan. 30, and running through Feb. 7. Organizers are confident that the winter celebration will be a success, drawing thousands of people to the small coastal town.
The nine-day celebration will include a full docket of winter-themed events and competitions, including Maine’s Mardi Gras festivities, and will culminate with the Toboggan Nationals, Friday-Sunday, Feb. 5-7, at the Camden Snow Bowl.
“It’s a town thing,” said Stewart Young, a Camden resident who wears many hats during Winterfest week. “It helps the Snow Bowl and, economically, it’s good for the town. It brings people into town to eat at restaurants and stay.”
Young is on planning committees for both the Camden Winterfest and Toboggan Nationals. And for the past 16 years, he has held the highly important position of “chute master,” the person responsible for sending racers down the 400-foot-long ice-filled toboggan chute.
Last year, the Toboggan Nationals celebrated its 25th year at the Camden Snow Bowl, drawing nearly 1,300 racers and more than 6,000 spectators for three days of events. The busiest day of the competition is always Saturday, Feb. 5, when teams have their first official run down the chute. That also is the day when hundreds of competitors participate in the highly-competitive costume contest and parade on Hosmer Pond.
Because of unseasonably warm weather, many ponds and lakes in Maine have been late to freeze over this winter. But race organizers say that the 53-acre Hosmer Pond, which reaches a depth of 16 feet, is frozen solid enough to hold the crowds that show up for the Toboggan Nationals.
“We have about 8-9 inches of ice on [Hosmer Pond] right now,” said Landon Fake, general manager of the Camden Snow Bowl and Camden director of Parks and Recreation. “That’s a lot of ice. I think we’ll be fine with the thickness of it. The real challenge is getting the ice in the chute.”
“As for the chute, Mother Nature isn’t cooperating, so we have a battle plan going into effect.” said Young. “We’re going to make ice 24 hours a day, and we’ll build the ice up in the chute the best we can.”
This year, 425 teams will be allowed to compete in the toboggan races; 100 two-person teams; 100 three-person teams; and 200 four-person teams.
As of Jan. 29, registration was almost full, Edwards said.
“The conditions are terrible, but the good thing is that they’ll be terrible for everyone, all the racers. So it’s even,” said Holly Edwards, chairman of the U.S. National Toboggan Championships committee since 2002. “The important thing is that the pond is safe.”
So far, only just one Winterfest event has been rescheduled because of high temperatures: the Maine State Snow Sculpting Championships. Originally scheduled for Jan. 30-31, this competition has been postponed until later in February because of significant snow melt this week.
Winterfest events will include the CamJam Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding Competition; a Community Ice Festival; a Polar Plunge into Camden Harbor for Coastal Mountains Land Trust; and the Snow Plow Parade in downtown Camden. Also, the Camden Opera House has a full schedule that includes several ski films, a puppet show and a zydeco concert featuring C.J. Chenier. And returning to the docket is the popular Frost Heave Challenge, in which the public is asked to vote for its favorite themed drinks at local restaurants and bars.
In addition, the Camden Snow Bowl is up and running. As of Friday, seven downhill trails were open to the public.
“It’s been a difficult year,” Fake said. “Virtually all of the snow we’re skiing on is man-made, but we still have a fair amount of the mountain open, and we’ll start making snow again as soon as the temperatures drop next week.”