With a wind advisory in place and mirror slick ice, the U.S. National Toboggan Championships in Camden was no place for the faint of heart on Saturday.
But 425 teams toughed it out to race down the 440-foot-long chute on traditional wooden toboggans for the 29th year of the Camden Snow Bowl’s signature event. This was the first year since 2014 that registration completely sold out.
The three-day event kicked off Friday, drawing racers and spectators from around the country.
Tobogganing at this level is something anyone can do, if they’re brave enough, and the championships draw newcomers every year. But many of the teams that turn out have been participating year after year.
This is the 20th year that Doug Fagly, a carpenter from Delaware, has made the trek to Maine. He became aware of the races when working on the Bush family’s estate in Kennebunkport, and the next year he and his son were heading down the chute.
“We have no hills [in Delaware]. We don’t have snow or ice. It doesn’t get this cold,” Fagly said. “What is amazing about Maine is you come and it’s always an adventure. You see the same people and we pick up where we left off last year, and that’s what I love about it. It’s not about winning. It’s coming up here and having a good time.”
Racers compete in teams of two, three and four people, vying for the top spot in a number of categories. Fagly has previously placed second and third for time, and has been awarded best crafted sled. If he ever places first, he will retire.
Even for a seasoned racer like Fagly, the weekend’s weather conditions were extreme. Friday’s rain created ice-like glass on Hosmer Pond, where the chute spits out racers. While bumps or rough spots on the ice will typically stop a speeding toboggan after coming down the chute, the abnormally smooth ice was allowing racers to fly nearly completely across the pond.
“We’ve never gone that far in previous years. When you get out there you start doing doughnuts, because you can’t stop. That’s really unnerving because you’re going 35 miles per hour, and you’re doing doughnuts,” Fagly said. “But it’s a blast. It’s a good amusement.”
The winds that took down Fagly’s sled display — breaking one sled — on Friday night persisted on Saturday. A village of ice shacks and campfires took up residence on Hosmer Pond, where spectators and racers took refuge from the bitter winds with hot coffee and something stronger to warm their innards.
The temperatures caused many racers to either rethink their costumes or bury them under winter coats if they didn’t provide enough insulation. For a returning team of three Cellardoor Winery employees, the fluffy bunches of grapes they chose to wear this year provided plenty of protection from wind gusts.
“We always wear a costume, usually having to do with wine. The biggest reason we picked this costume was because it was warm. We’re just here for a grape time and to do grape things,” Daryl Emery of Camden said.