Each winter, often early in December, Camden Parks and Recreation volunteers and the Camden Snow Bowl’s toboggan chute master, Stuart Young, assemble around the cherished toboggan chute to finalize maintenance needs before everything freezes up.
Young, who manages the toboggan chute, is a native Mainer who grew up riding the toboggan chute and skiing at the Camden Snow Bowl. Young’s parents were volunteers for the Camden Snow Bowl during his childhood.
The toboggan chute first emerged in the late 1930s when the Camden Snow Bowl was in its infancy, an offshoot of the Outing Club. Back then, the ride to the top of the ski hill was via rope tow and the original lodge was a stone’s throw from the location of the current toboggan chute. Winter visitors also enjoyed a hockey rink back in the early years.
In the late 1950s the toboggan chute fell into disrepair and the Coast Guard stepped in to administer the rebuild. During a meeting in 1990 to generate ideas to expand revenue for the Camden Snow Bowl, Jack Williams breathed new life into the idea of bringing back the toboggan run, which by that year was merely a memory on the hill.
Work to renew the chute was finished on Jan. 5, 1991 and 14 days later, on Jan. 19, it was named the Jack R. Williams Chute in a dedication ceremony held at the toboggan area. A month later, on Feb. 24, 1991, the first U.S. National Toboggan Championships was held at the Snow Bowl. It was an event hatched by then-Camden Parks and Recreation Director Ken Bailey.
Still going strong in 2013, the 23rd annual Toboggan Nationals will boast a field of 400 teams and nearly 1,300 racers, with a expected spectator base of more than 5,000 over two days of heated competition. Without fail, the limited number of team slots annually sells out and the crowds of spectators makes the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area the most popular place to be each February.
The toboggan chute is the star but Young’s role as chute master is a labor of love, indeed. It’s Young’s job to make sure the chute is in peak shape come race weekend. For general use Young likes to keep an inch of ice in the chute, but during the Toboggan Nationals he builds up a 2- to 3-inch base. In addition to late night and early morning tending and fretting by Young in the days and hours leading up to the start of the races each year, the chute has its own mock Zamboni, an invention built by chute patron David Dickey of Camden.
Young has also on occasion had to field repairs of the chute during the off season to straighten out twists and calm frost heaves that can make for bumpy rides lying on traditional wooden toboggans at speeds of 30+ mph. But it’s a labor of love, and to watch Young at the top of the chute on race day is to see his smile is as big as any first-time racer’s.
In addition to thanking Young, Bailey, and Dickey for their years of support to the Snow Bowl and the U.S. National Toboggan Championships, the Toboggan Nationals Committee would also like to take this opportunity to thank the dedicated sponsors, advertisers and volunteers who generously pitch in year after year with time and funding to make the event, and ultimately the Snow Bowl’s future, a success.
For more information about competing in and attending the 2013 U.S. National Toboggan Championships, visit www.camdensnowbowl.com or call 207-236-3438.