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Environment and Outdoors

Dear Jay Field’s Kids: Your Dad Didn’t Wimp Out Atop Camden Snow Bowl’s Toboggan Chute

Jay Field

CAMDEN, Maine — Festivities surrounding the 26th annual U.S. National Toboggan Championships kick off this weekend in Camden.

The recent unseasonably warm weather forced event organizers to move a snow sculpting competition, scheduled for Saturday, to later in the month.

Race coordinators, though, say the toboggan chute will be as slick as ever, when competition begins a week from Saturday.

I went on a test run and filed this first-person account.

I meet my sled mate in the parking lot at the Camden Snow Bowl, down the hill from the rickety tower where the toboggan chute begins.

At the nationals, some people wear crazy costumes and race just for fun. There are also racers like Jim Jefferson from Searsmont. He’s won five national toboggan championships.

“Four-man we’ve won it three times,” he says. “And two-man twice.”

Clearly, Jefferson knows what he’s doing, which is good because I can’t recall ever having ridden on a toboggan.

The snow cover around the chute is spotty, a victim of the recent springlike temperatures. But the chute itself? It’s plenty icy. And really steep where it launches off from the start tower.

“I haven’t written a will yet,” I tell Jefferson. “Maybe that was an oversight on my part.”

“I have a pen,” he says. “I always have a pen.”

Holly Edwards is waiting for us at the top of the tower. She has been chairwoman of the U.S. National Toboggan Championships since 2002. The toboggan chute, Edwards explains, was built in 1936 by volunteers.

“And this event is run by volunteers, primarily,” she says. “It’s a fun event. We try to keep it fun.”

Over the past three years, the town of Camden has built a festival around the toboggan nationals.

This winterfest includes a polar plunge into Camden Harbor. There is also a string of events, Maine’s Mardi Gras, that include a concert Thursday by CJ Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band and a block party and dance downtown, a week from Saturday night.

At the center of the festivities, says Edwards, are the 425 toboggan teams, made up of nearly 1,300 racers.

“We try to make sure that, even when the weather doesn’t cooperate perfectly, that everybody gets to race and have a good time,” she says.

“Are you concerned about the weather?” I say.

“No,” she says. “Primarily because there’s 10-12 inches of ice on the pond right now.”

That’s a good thing. It also means we won’t sink into the frigid water, provided we make it down the chute and onto Hosmer Pond without crashing.

“We’re going to get you locked in,” Jefferson says. “Feet under the curl, knees and arms tucked in. And I’m going to wrap around you. And we’ll go down, like, in a big block.”

“So, I’m putting my life in your hands?” I say.

“Pretty much.” he says.

“I have two kids,” I say. “They’d really look down on me if I wimped out.”

Seconds later, someone behind us pulls a lever and our toboggan tips downward, out over the edge of the chute.

“Woah!” I say.

“We made it,” Jefferson says moments later.

“Am I OK?” I say.

“Oh yeah,” he says. “We won! I’m pretty sure we won.”

The actual winners of the U.S. National Toboggan Championships will be decided next weekend in Camden.