In February 2020, Jim Jefferson and his teammates on the Four Wingnuts made it from the top of Camden Snow Bowl’s Jack Williams Toboggan Chute onto the ice of Hosmer Pond in 9.21 seconds — a time that earned them first place out of some 200 teams in the 4-person division (and the fastest time overall) in the 30th annual U.S. National Toboggan Championships. After a pandemic year off, the event’s 31st running is slated to kick off February 11. We asked Jefferson, a merchant marine and maker of wooden toys (Knockabout Toys) who lives in Searsmont, what it takes to go for the gold.
The National Toboggan Championships have a reputation for being kind of a gonzo party. Is it also a serious competition?
It’s something to do in February with a bunch of friends when cabin fever sets in. I’m a merchant marine, so I ask some of my crew members and fellow captains to join me. I’ve been racing for at least 20 years, and I usually race on five or six teams. We’ve won it four times and are a team of dedicated racers. Most folks are there to have fun — we usually wear capes and funny hats — but once you make the finals, then it’s time to get serious.
As a woodworker, what do you think makes a toboggan a good racer?
It’s been 10 years since I made my sled, and I’m due for a new one. A professional sled might be heavier, sturdier built, like a stiff, fast ski. Mine gets the job done, like a pickup truck.
So what are the secrets to speed in the chute?
First, stay on the sled. You want to be locked in well as a unit, so you don’t tip it. Weight also helps. The four of us weigh about 900 pounds, and weight equals speed. I also wax my sled before the race. So many things can make the difference — the sled, the team, the ice, the weather, and how your start goes. Exhaling rather than inhaling as you leave the chute can make a difference by a fraction of a second.
Do you have any time-honored pre-race traditions?
I like to show off my trophies in my truck — you know, to pump up the chest.
This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.