Community, Toboggans, and the Camden Snow Bowl of Midcoast Maine

Posted By: Zeke Piestrup on June 9, 2009 9:24 am

The toboggan is unlike any other sled, in that it has no skis or rails.  Its genius was handed down by the indigenous Cree and Innu of Northeastern Canada.  A hunter-gatherer society, the Cree and Innu used the toboggan for the transport of belongings.  Tie it to the sled, and tow.  Back then, men, women, children, everybody towed a toboggan.

Ponder the Innu and Cree’s toboggan next time the kind ski patrolman chauffeurs you down on your last run. Skiing and toboggans are linked like cars and tow trucks.  Little wonder that three centuries later, the Toboggan has found a home at a community ski resort, the Camden Snow Bowl in Maine.  Now men, women, children, everybody rides a toboggan.

They’re called the U.S. National Toboggan Championships.  The venue is an iced-over, wooden toboggan chute at the Camden Snow Bowl on the coast of Maine.  “See the sea while you ski” is the motto of this beautiful piece of ski history which dates back to 1936.  More than a thousand volunteers built the Camden Snow Bowl, during the Great Depression no less.  Today the resort is owned entirely by the municipality, an incredible rarity, which makes the Camden Snow Bowl a survivor.  A planned $6.5 million redevelopment of the four-season resort is underway, ensuring the Camden Snow Bowl remains a survivor.

In the late 1930s, it was the Winter Carnival and Queen’s Ball that got Camden jumpin’.  Today, it’s an event that could be introduced with the Monty Python catch phrase “and now for something completely different.” 

The first U.S. National Toboggan Championships were held in 1991, drawing a hundred or so folks.  Today more than 300 teams compete in front of an overflow crowd of 5000.  The Toboggan Championships are a big, super fun deal.

The 400-foot long chute, with a vertical of 70 feet, sends toboggan speedsters screaming down onto the frozen Hosmer Pond.  Fastest down wins with competitors reaching speeds of 45 miles-an-hour.  It’s the one national championship where anyone can become a national champion.  Little training is required.  That is, unless you consider eating a lot of food to be “training”.  You can be a national champion in 2010.  What other sport offers such instant hope?

The array of different costumes, the friendly and fun atmosphere, the awesomeness of the wooden chute, the immense beauty of coastal Maine, and the uniqueness of “see the sea while you ski” make the U.S. National Toboggan Championships an event to add to your Ski Calendar.  It’s mandatory smiles at the Camden Snow Bowl every year, the second weekend in February.  Make some turns on Ragged Mountain, head over to the chute, and just maybe become a national champion!

Zeke Piestrup ( More Posts)

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