Today, I sent the following email to my colleagues Abigail Curtis and Kimberly Merrifield, as well as my husband, Derek Runnells, regarding our upcoming participation in the US National Toboggan Championships scheduled for Friday-Sunday, Feb. 9-11, at the Camden Snow Bowl. The four of us have registered as a four-person team called “The Bangor Daily Luge,” a name thought up by my colleague John Holyoke, who has participated with me in the races in years past. This is my fourth time participating in the celebrated event in Camden. It’s a blast.

The chute

Email subject line: Toboggan Nationals briefing

Happy Wednesday, team!

With the Toboggan Nationals this weekend, I thought I’d touch base with you and offer a few reminders, which are also for my own benefit. :D

The schedule for the event is here:

We don’t have to arrive too early to the Camden Snow Bowl because the four-person teams don’t go down the chute until after lunch. However, we do need to register by noon. I suggest we meet at the registration tents at 11 a.m. so we don’t have any trouble.

Derek and I will be arriving early to get a parking space, haul our gear onto Hosmer Pond to make an encampment for the day, then watch the 2-person and 3-person teams zip down the chute in the morning. So if you arrive early, look for us on the pond.

One of many Hosmer Pond encampments from a previous year.

Parking at the Snow Bowl is $10 a vehicle and it’s going to fill up fast on Saturday. It always does. That’s why they have a shuttle running between the Village Green in downtown Camden to the Camden Snow Bowl from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. It also is probably a good option for anyone consuming adult beverages that day. If you don’t arrive at the Camden Snow Bowl early, you’ll need to take the shuttle I’m guessing.

I’m going to sound like a bossypants now, but I am writing these reminders as much for myself as for you.

Dress warm

Looking at the schedule, we’ll go down the chute just once on Saturday. Most of our time will be spent standing around or sitting at the encampment, so remember to dress warm. Since we don’t have costumes, this should be easy. Don’t worry about looking like a dork in lots of winter gear since there will likely be people there dressed as gorillas, Vikings, etc. Derek and I will be supplying our team with a ridiculous amount of chemical hand warmers and toe warmers. While we’re still a few days out, I’ve looked at the weather forecast and it looks like it’s either going to rain or snow. I’m hoping for snow. Either way, it’ll be wet, so bring a change of clothes and plenty of waterproof gear.

When we dressed as ninjas that one year… and I made newspaper swords.

Wear a helmet

We’ve got to all wear helmets. Injuries during this event aren’t common, but they aren’t rare, either. We’ll be catapulting down an ice-covered slide at 45 mph and launching onto a bumpy, frozen pond, after all. I suggest a helmet designed for skiing or snowboarding. Helmets also make it easier to mount Go-Pros!

Bring some cash

Parking costs $10, if you make it in time. There is also a tent of really cool souvenirs. I know Derek and I plan to buy Toboggan Nationals sweatshirts. And then there are the many snack shacks located in Tobogganville, a makeshift village at the end of the chute. We also may need to bribe someone to sit by their fire if we don’t end up making one for ourselves.

Our goal

First of all, we’re not in it to win it. From the past times I’ve watched and participated in this competition, I’ve learned that there are three categories of participants: 1. The competitive racers, 2. The competitive costume wearers, and 3. The people who are just doing it for fun. We fall in to the third category because in order to actual make a good time down the chute, you need to build your own sled. I also hear there is a degree of skill involved in how you throw your weight around on the sled. Since we don’t have those things — the sled or the skill — we’re just there to have fun.

Troy Bennett (left) likes to have fun at the races. I hope to see him there.

Our strategy

We’ve got a four-person team, so things are going to get cozy. On the loaner toboggan that we grab from the bottom of the chute, we’ll sit, one behind the other, on the toboggan’s long worn cushion, and there’s a little bit of a method to it. First of all, I’ve sat in the front before and really enjoyed it, so I thought either Kimberly or Abby would want to sit in front this time? Whoever ends up in front sits down first, sticks her feet under the curved front of the toboggan, knees slightly bent, and grabs onto a rope tied to the front. The second person sits directly behind then wraps her legs around the waist of the first. To secure this bond, the first person links her arms around the second person’s legs, holding them in the crook of her arms tightly. Then the third person sits down, wraps her legs around the second, and so on and so forth, until we’re a giant sledding caterpillar.

When it’s time for them to drop our toboggan onto the chute, we lay back and pretty much stare at the sky all the way down. This is important because it lowers our center of gravity and makes us more aerodynamic. In my first race, I lifted up my head instinctually to watch where we were going, and I think it slowed us down a great deal. And if you think about it, there’s no point in lifting your head up to see where we’re going because you can’t actually steer the sled. It’s just a straight ride, no turns.

Also, in the few seconds that we’re hurtling down the chute then across the pond, it’s very important that we keep our limbs — our arms and legs — tucked in as tightly as possible. Don’t do any waving or flailing because you could catch us up on the chute or tip us over.

The last thing that I’ve found to be important is simply trying your best to keep the toboggan balanced. This is most important when we hit the open ice of Hosmer Pond because if we tip to one side while still going 30 mph, it’s going to hurt. On the other hand, if we keep our balance in the center of the sled, we may just glide slowly to a stop. That being said, sometimes people hit bumps on the pond and tip over regardless. I’ve tipped before, but we had slowed down a great deal and no one was injured. I think the best way to keep the sled balanced, again, is by holding onto each other tightly and lying straight back.

A photo from the top of the toboggan chute in 2014 at the U.S. National Toboggan Championships in Camden. I’m sitting in front that year. It’s fun. Really, it is!

Obligations vs just plain fun

By agreeing to be a part of our four-person team “The Bangor Daily Luge,” you’ve committed to being there and participating in one run on Saturday, which will be some time after the costume parade at noon. There is a second run on Sunday morning, usually for the competitive racers, that I don’t feel obligated to return for but will if you guys want to! After we’ve completed our run on Saturday, I plan to stick around and enjoy the festivities, but do not feel obligated to. I know you may have other things going on that evening.

The Toboggan Nationals is happening during the tail end of the Camden Winterfest, so there’s a lot going on in the area. Derek and I will likely attend the chili challenge at Sea Dog Brewing in downtown Camden, which runs from 5 to 8 p.m. I believe there will also be some ice sculptures to view at the Camden Public Library.

During the actual races on Saturday we’ll be setting up a little encampment with a grill down on Hosmer Pond, as many other racers and spectators do. We plan to bring a small camp grill and chairs. Consider bringing your own chair or camp cushion to get comfy in between races. You’re also welcome to bring any refreshments. We’ll have a small cooler with some room. If you want to coordinate what you’re bringing ahead of time, just send me a message! :D

Photo courtesy of Seth Koenig
BDN reporter Abigail Curtis dressed as a zombie, ready to compete in the US Toboggan Championships with her BDN team “The Walking Deadlines” a couple years ago. Abby is on my team again because she rocks.

I look forward to spending some time with all of you and screaming together as we fly down the toboggan chute! If you’re thinking, “Aislinn, this email is a bit excessive,” I’d have to agree. But perhaps it’d make more sense if I told you it’s also being used as a blog post.

See you at the Snow Bowl!


Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...