Monday, February 22, 2016



   The U.S. National Tobaggan Championships is the only organized wooden toboggan race in the country and possibly the world.  The toboggan chute is located in Camden, Main at the Camden Snow Bowl, a community owned year round recreation area which has developed thousand of dedicated skiers since 1936.  All race revenue goes to off setting the Snow Bowl budget.   This year they we held on February 5th and 6th.


   The original chute was first built in 1936 by a dedicated group of volunteers who also built a ski lodge and ski hill, one of the earliest in America.  The chute was again rebuilt in 1954 by local Coast Guardsmen and lasted until 1964 when it was brought to an end because of rot and neglect.
   In 1990 it was resurrected once again out of pressure treated wood by another enthusiastic group of volunteers and material donors and was to become known as the Jack Williams Toboggan Chute.  The week before the race, many hours are spent during the dark of night, when it is the coldest, to coat the wooden chute with layer upon  layer of ice.  This is accomplished by a "Rube Goldberg" invention of David Dickeys, which pulleys a tub up the chute slowly dispensing water from holes in its back.

   The chute is 400 feet long, and with the 70 foot high hill,  toboggans can reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.  The run out is on to frozen Hosmers' pond.  If there is clear ice on the  pond, some sleds will go the entire way across the pond ( over 1/4 of a mile).
      The Nationals are usually held the first weekend of February, but to avoid conflict with the Super Bowl, the event has been changed to the 2nd weekend in February starting in 2008.


   The race toboggan must be of traditional shape, material and design to qualify for the Nationals.  The race is like any race, in that the few rules are constantly pushed to the limits by tweaking the toboggan to make it go a tenth of a second faster.  Even the "Inspector of Toboggans", from the 2007  race,  was found to have violated the slat rule to make his go a little faster.
   The most wonderful aspect of the U.S. National Toboggan Race, is that anybody can participate in a national race and anybody can be the National Champion, no matter their age or ability.  In 2007 two gentlemen from Tennessee, who had never seen snow before, went on to become the 2nd place champions in the two man division.


   The annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival has been held since 1963.  It had been interrupted for a number of years during the Cultural Revolution,  until it was resumed in 1985.
   Harbin, the capital of Heilonjiang province of China, it is one of the main sources of ice and snow culture in the world.  Geographically, it is located in Northeast China under the direct influence of the cold winter wind from Siberia.  The average temperature in summer is 21.2 degrees Celsius, -16.8 degrees Celsius in the winter.  It can be as cold as -38.1 degrees Celsius in the winter.  This years festival runs from  January 5th to February 25th, 2016.

Niagra falls sculpture

   The festival lasts the whole month.  However the exhibits often open earlier and stay longer, weather permitting.  Ice sculpture decoration technology ranges from the modern (using lasers) to traditional (with ice lanterns).  There are ice lantern park touring activities held in many parks throughout the city.  Winter activities in the festival include Yabuli alpine skiing, winter swimming in the Songhua River, and the ice lantern exhibition in Zhaolin Garden.

   The Harbin festival is one of the world's four largest ice and snow festivals, along with Japan's Sapporo Snow Festival, Canada's Quebec City Winter Carnival, and Norway's Ski Festival.
   The 2007 festival featured a Canadian theme, in memoriam of Canadian doctor Norman Bethune.  It was also a Guinness Record of the largest snow sculpture:  over 500 feet  long and 28 feet high, using over 13,000 cubic meters of snow.  The composition consisted of two parts: "Niagara Falls" and "Crossing the Bering Strait" (the latter depicting the migrations of the First Nations).



   Swing saws are used to carve ice into blocks, taken from the frozen surface of the Songhua River.  Chisels, ice picks and various types of saws are then are used by the ice sculptors to carve out large scaled ice sculptures, many of them intricately designed and worked on all day and night prior to the commencement of the festival.  Deionized water can also be used, producing ice blocks as transparent as glass to make clear sculptures rather than translucent ones.  Multicolored lights are also used to give color to the ice, creating variations on sculptured spectacles when lit up especially at night.  Some ice sculptures made in previous years include: buildings and monuments of different architectural types and styles.  Figures include animals, people and mythical creatures,there is also some slippery dips,  ice slides and lanterns.  Apart from winter recreational activities available in Harbin, these exquisitely detailed, mass produced ice sculptures are the main draw in attracting tourists from around the world to the festival.