Top Down, Bottoms Up
From “Icy Thrills & Spills” in our December 1992 issue. Photograph by Thomas Mark Szelog.
The ride may be short and the finale a bit undignified, but anyone who has hurtled down the toboggan chute at Camden Snow Bowl agrees it’s a thrill. On their 10-second journey from the tipping platform to frozen Hosmer Pond, tobogganers are likely to reach speeds up to 40 mph. But the 2-year-old, 400-foot wooden chute has given this community more than an adrenalin rush. It’s brought townspeople together for lively winter fun and revived a bit of local history as well.
As a child, Jack Williams witnessed the 1936 construction of the ski area, including the original wooden toboggan chute built at the Camden shipyard and stained by local women. Over time, the chute rotted out, and it was abandoned in 1964. When there was talk in the late ’80s of shutting down the Snow Bowl due to lack of reliable snow, Williams presented the idea of resurrecting the chute to create additional revenue and spark community involvement.
Local businesses contributed $9,000 for materials, and volunteers held parties to complete the construction. In the late fall of 1990, Williams had the honor of being the first person down it, and he’s since been followed by hundreds of people, including competitors in the National Toboggan Championships, the country’s only organized wooden toboggan race. “People used to think the Snow Bowl was only for wealthy people who went downhill skiing,” Williams says. “Now we see a diverse crowd, and everyone enjoys the toboggan chute.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. National Toboggan Committee presented Jack Williams, now 90, with a trophy commemorating his dedication to building and maintaining the toboggan chute that bears his name. The plaque thanked him for “bringing a legacy of healthy competition and winter activities to the state of Maine for generations to come.” Registration is now open for the 28th annual National Toboggan Championships, to be held in February.