CAMDEN, Maine — With some of the world’s top athletes competing halfway across the globe in South Korea, a different class of winter sports folk converged in Maine this weekend for the 28th annual U.S. National Toboggan Championships.
The brave souls traveled to Camden from places like California, Alaska and Virginia, donning their quirkiest gear with toboggans in tow for a shot at sledding glory — or at the very least, a good time.
About 365 teams are participating in this year’s championships at the Camden Snow Bowl, where participants race down a 440-foot long ice chute on traditional wooden toboggans to compete for best time in a number of categories.
The event draws seasoned tobogganers as well as newcomers, who have worked up the courage to fly onto Hosmer Pond in teams of two, three and four people with nothing but a little bit of wood between them and the ice.
“It’s the only sport in which you can compete at a national level if you’ve never done it before. We have people here who just walked on and grabbed a toboggan,” participant Moira O’Neill said. “Anybody can be a champion here.”
Placing first in the two-person team category, with a best run time of 9.78 second, were the Two Slab City Slifer. Placing first in the three-person category were the Deedles Screaming Eagles with a best run time of 9.7 seconds. Placing first in the four-person category was Spudrunner 4, with a best run time of 9.6 seconds.
A tailgating atmosphere on Saturday welcomed the racers with fires, food and music at the base of the chute on Hosmer Pond. In the background, screams from those flying down the mountain at 30 to 40 mph could be heard — “I changed my mind,” one shouted mid-race.
O’Neill, a Surry resident, has participated in the event three times, though this year she’s sitting out the races to coordinate for a couple teams of newcomers: the Bath Destroyers and the Deer Isle Smiles. The two teams are racing on 12-foot-long toboggans made by championship alumni.
The worst part about the race is the anticipation, according to Bath Destroyers team member Peter Murphy.
“It’s scary getting ready,” Murphy said. “I didn’t want to be that one person who whacked my head on the side [of the chute.]”
Aside from vying for the title of toboggan champion, the quirkiness of the three-day event is a draw. Many teams take pride in their costumes, whether it’s dressing up like a panda or family of Lego people. And then there are the team names, like Sled Man Walking and Bilbo’s Boggans.
L’Eggo My Sleigh-go, the two person team of Ernie and Cindy Wright, was out of the running by 1:30 p.m. Saturday. But they didn’t see their 12-hour drive from Richmond, Virginia, as a waste.
“Maine is so very different from where we’re from,” Ernie Wright said. “So now it’s all about just saying ‘Hi’ to people.”
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