CAMDEN, Maine — The 31st running of the US National Toboggan Championship happens in just a few days. The event, held each year right next to the Camden Snow Bowl, attracts spectators and participants from all over the country.
One man has been front and center at the race for the last 13 years and 207 traveled to Camden to find out what it takes to be the voice of the competition.
Days before the big competition, it is eerily quiet at the toboggan chute. But that is all set to change.
"You’ll have people showing up in costumes, you’ll have about 5,000 people out on the ice in vendor row ... they will be packed with people. They are here seeing friends they probably haven’t seen in years, people from all around the country, people from Kansas and Indiana and Arizona…there’s a team that comes in every year from California," says Tom Dowd with more than a hint of excitement in his voice.
This Friday, the US National Toboggan Championships get underway. The weather has cooperated, and the anticipation is at a fever pitch.
The event was canceled last year due to Covid. "As soon as we put the registrations up this year, people flocked and quickly came in to sign up," reports Dowd.
For the last 13 years, Dowd has had a front-row seat to all the colorful craziness as the voice of this event, which has taken on a life of its own.
"My job is to entertain and I’m talking for about 15 hours. For the two days of competition. Think about this. you have 425 teams, each running twice in the qualifying rounds plus 25% of the fastest times for two, three, and four-person toboggans go into the finals the next day," Dowd knows the drill, having done this job plenty of times.
Each team, with names like Shiver Me Timbers, and Faster than my Prius, makes the breathtaking run down the chute in about nine or ten seconds.
What does he do all weekend? "I’m announcing the nine seconds. I’m announcing between the races. I’m announcing the sponsorships that we have. I have fun with cultural references. I have fun with the kids out front. It’s really just about keeping the event moving along. And if we have some timing delays, which happens periodically I may throw on a sing-along with the crowd," he says with a chuckle.
He is part of a devoted team, eager to welcome toboggan enthusiasts from all over the country to their corner of the state.
"It is the only organized wooden toboggan chute race in the country, possibly the world. It is one of the longest wooden chutes in the Northeast, so we take a lot of pride in that," says Dowd.
The chute was originally built in the 1930s. After falling into disrepair it had a facelift in 1990. That’s when a small group of locals thought about starting a competition. The small, casual event has grown exponentially and received plenty of attention.
"It’s been picked up by, the NY Times wrote about it a few years ago, it was in Yahoo Sports, it was in Sports Illustrated, Triple-A Magazine had something in there as well. The word just continues to get out," Dowd recalls.
Possibly because it’s about nine seconds of so much fun!
"As soon as you go down once, you’re addicted. People take it very seriously. Well, some people take it very seriously, others are wearing costumes. What we say is, once you get past the finish line, enjoy the ride! There’s no reason to stop yourself, you go all the way across the pond. It’s such a short ride, you might as well enjoy it." Dowd has watched countless numbers of teams make the run.
How does one prepare to be the voice of the toboggan championships?
"I spend months in advance just putting together some cultural references, I’ll put together the playlist for music that we can play in the background, I spend a lot of time talking to the people that are involved in the event. It’s my chance to get out. And that’s what this is all about. The winter doldrums and getting out and just enjoying yourself and enjoying what we have in front of us," says Dowd, smiling.
The event is sold out – with a total of 400 two, three, and four-person teams. To learn more about the event, click here. When the event was canceled last year due to Covid, Tom took that time to write a children’s book about the race, based loosely on his daughter’s team winning the student division in 2013. The book is called Down The Chute, and copies are available through Maine Authors Publishing, in select local bookstores, and on Amazon.
Books will be available at the U.S. National Toboggan Championships scheduled for February 11 - 13, 2022. Proceeds from books bought at the event will go toward the Camden Snow Bowl’s annual operating expenses.