Zipping down a snow-covered hill on a toboggan is one of the joys of winter for kids and families, but for one group of New Brunswickers, it brings out their competitive spirit.
The Fredericton Toboggan Club started a few years ago after Barry Morrison saw a poster advertising the U.S. National Toboggan Championship while he was travelling in Camden, Maine. Over a couple of beers, he said he managed to convince some of his friends to form a team.
From there, they built their first toboggan in 2019 and held a toboggan-building workshop.
In February 2020, the club competed for the first time, said Morrison, but their competitive drive was halted during the early years of COVID-19. Morrison said the club is excited to be back at it now.
The Fredericton team is made up of big, heavy guys that can help win races, said Morrison, as well as some who are handy with tools and help build the sleds.
He said having lots of weight on the toboggan creates momentum, helping with acceleration down the hill.
Morrison said for their first competition, the team brought a small, light toboggan thinking they would be nimble and agile. But they quickly realized that they needed heavy, stiff toboggans with lots of weight.
The team this year is composed entirely of men, but Morrison said next year, they are adding a women’s crew that will compete.
“I think the key is you want to have a toboggan that’s stiff, well-waxed and then you want to have, you know, 400-plus pounds of person on it, and you want to make it go fast,” said Morrison. “We refer to it as velocitation. So everybody spends the winter training and building their ability to help us velocitate.”
That means waxing the toboggan, as well as eating more carbs to add more weight to the sled, said Morrison.
Adam Valentate is one of the club’s racers and also is a key part of the building process.
Valentate said at first, the team was just fascinated with the idea of bending wood, but after going to their first competition, he said they realized there’s a wider interpretation of how to make a toboggan.
“We came home from our first event and said, ‘let’s really think about what makes a toboggan fast,’ and we came up with a plan,” said Valentate.
One of the team’s toboggans is made up of maple and walnut with a plywood base, but they would normally use ash or oak, said Valentate. They wanted something rigid, but also pretty.
“If we’re going to put that many hours into something, I thought, ‘why not make it nice?'”
But aside from rigidity and appearance, there are certain parameters the teams have to follow for their toboggans as outlined by the competition organizers, said Valentate. There are weight, width and length restrictions, and each toboggan has to have a bend on the front and a pad for safety.
Valentate hopes their techniques will pay off for the U.S. National Toboggan Championships competition happening over the weekend in Maine. Racing will take place only on Sunday, Feb. 5, this year because of Saturday’s extreme cold weather.
Morrison said the races are timed and the categories are divided by how many people are on the sled. The categories range from two-person teams to four-person.
The Fredericton Toboggan Club has entered multiple teams in the two-person races with some of their team names paying homage to New Brunswick with names like Fast Freddy Drop, Picaroons Bitters and Devon Sliders.
Morrison said the run is typically a 70-metre chute that runs down onto a lake, but because the lake isn’t frozen this year, they will be doing a different run that’s about 62 metres.
The club also competes in a nicest-built toboggan part of the competition, he said, which is why they work to build quality, unique and intricate sleds.
Morrison said the club is one of the only competitive toboggan clubs in the Maritimes as far as he knows. He said he hopes the sport will gain more exposure and more people will get involved.
Morrison said the club and competition is always a good opportunity to connect and get together as friends.
“Just like if we were a hockey team or a soccer team or, you know, a track team, we just enjoy the time together,” said Morrison.
“We enjoy traveling, getting to see some different areas and getting out and kind of having a bit of fun.”