Camden Winterfest + Our Wild Toboggan Ride

Our family recently traveled to Camden for the start of Winterfest — a week-long celebration that features an ice-carving contest, polar plunge, freestyle skiing competition, family-friendly activities and the 2016 U.S. National Toboggan Championships, which take place at the Camden Snow Bowl February 5-7.

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Colder evening temps keep the chute running, despite the lack of snow this season.

chute-2MP and the kids have always wanted to try tobogganing down the ice chute at the Snow Bowl. When we pulled up to the parking lot, all of us looked toward the chute and agreed we could handle the ride. Although once we climbed the steep steps towards the deck, our confidence waned. The vastness of the pond below and the full length (440 feet) of the wooden chute gave us an honest perspective. Stuart Young, the toboggan chute master, showed us the release handle that launches each sled. “Maybe we should watch a few people go down first,” MP said out loud. The kids agreed.

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Chute master Stuart Young gets ready to send another sled down the chute.

Stuart, who has operated the chute for 16 years, assured MP that our family would be fine. “How thick is the ice on the pond?” MP asked. He’d checked earlier that morning and reported the ice was 11-12 inches thick, “plenty safe.” He told MP that he’d grown up sliding down the chute, which was built in 1936. “Kids as young as eight and adults as old as ninety have tobogganed down,” he said.

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A woman dressed in a fur coat and Mardi Gras beads volunteered to go first with veteran racer Jim Jefferson, who coached her to tuck her knees and arms inside the sled as tightly as possible. “You can burn a hole in your coat otherwise,” he mentioned. MP took note as the two prepared for their descent. Once the toboggan was released, the pair slid down in seconds. “We can do this,” MP said to CP#1 and #2. And while CP#2 was game, CP#1 still wasn’t sure. “I think I’ll watch you two go first,” she said.

Taking a cue from the first team, MP asked if someone knowledgable could ride with us. Landon Fake, General Manager of the Camden Snow Bowl, kindly agreed. “Good luck, Mommy!” yelled CP#1 as Stuart pulled the handle to release the sled. Our toboggan sailed at nearly 30 mph down the icy chute and slid halfway across Hosmer Pond before coming to a stop. “We made it!” MP said, delighted and relieved for a smooth ride. “I want to slide down again!” announced CP#2, his cheeks flush with enthusiasm. MP laughed and thanked Landon for joining our team of beginners.

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While we carried the toboggan back to the chute deck, MP asked Landon about race day. Landon said there are teams of two, three and four people that race in the Toboggan Championships. CP #2 learned that kids ages 8-up can also create teams. The teams are encouraged to dress up, and since this year’s race theme is Mardi Gras, MP expects there will be some impressive costumes on view. The Snow Bowl committee expects to have nearly 1,300 racers and over 6,000 spectators the day of the race.

Back at the top, and after much deliberating, CP#1 decided she would give the toboggan a try. MP joined her along with Aislinn Sarnacki, an Outdoors writer and blogger from Bangor Daily News, who was wearing a GoPro camera on her helmet. If you’re curious, you can watch our descent here.

Pen Bay Pilot

Photo courtesy Holly Edwards, penbaypilot.com

We spent the rest of afternoon enjoying Camden with lunch at Boynton McKay and a stop at Owl & Turtle Bookshop for peppermint hot chocolates, new books for the kids, and a welcome coffee for Mom. After shopping, we retired to the beautiful Hawthorn Inn Bed & Breakfast, where innkeepers Lisa and Ted Weiss made us feel right at home (more about our stay in a later post). That evening, we decided to order take out from Long Grain, an exceptional Thai restaurant in town. We ate in our room by the fire and then snuggled in bed with our books.

The next morning, we took our time before walking to the library amphitheatre to view the ice sculpture contest and freestyle skiing competition. The weather was unusually warm and spring-like — a great day to be outside by Camden Harbor. When we arrived, a DJ played pop music while the ice sculptors worked on their creations. The kids loved watching the sculptures in progress. MP had to coax them along to view the skiing competition, which was exciting to watch. Families cheered as each skier made their descent and a few boys at the bottom of the hill yelled, “Snow in the face!” in hopes that the skiers would send a little snow flying their way.

ice-carving

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MP and the kids were impressed with all of the great events Camden offered during our stay. If you and your family decide to visit this weekend, Friday night features a parade and fireworks over the harbor, and Saturday offers a full day of racing at the Camden Snow Bowl. The library will also be offering stories, crafts and free activities for little ones. You can find a full list of events here.

Happy Winterfest weekend, everyone!

PS: CP#1 and #2 talk about their toboggan experience on the news. Want to try riding the chute with your family? Find details here.

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