My first time on a toboggan

By Louis Bettcher | Feb 06, 2017
Photo by: Louis Bettcher View from the top of the toboggan chute at the Camden Snow Bowl on Jan. 3.

Camden — On Feb. 3, I rode down the toboggan chute at the Camden Snow Bowl for the first time in my life. As someone who is afraid of heights and has no particular penchant for speed, the idea of these elements combined with ice and snow and no viable harness has previously deterred me.

This year was different, however. Armed with a GoPro camera strapped tightly to my head, I marched up the stairs to the top of the chute as a man on a mission. My goal: to gather video footage from the perspective of a human being careening down a 400-foot ice-clad luge in the front of a slim wooden sled.

This feat had eluded reporters before me, who had accidentally turned the camera on before or after their ride down the hill. This motivation to recreate the experience for the enjoyment of others, combined with the fact the camera strap on my head was slowly cutting off circulation to my brain, overtook my initial fears. I placed tales of lost teeth and broken fingers from my mind.

As I made my way up the stairs to the deployment deck of the chute, I glanced briefly at the narrow wooden trough, lined with 2 inches of ice. This structure promised to deliver me to the frozen surface of Hosmer Pond at a speed that could reach 40 mph. I did not slow my ascent to contemplate that portions of the chute date back to the 1930s. I wanted to be the first person down the mountain.

At the top of the stairs, Chutemaster Stuart Young introduced me to Jim, a seasoned toboggan rider who would accompany me on the sled. "It looks like this is a virgin sled," said one of the men, indicating that the toboggan had never gone down the chute before. How appropriate.

Without looking over the side of the deployment deck, I crept down onto the sled and placed my feet straight underneath its nose. A cold gust of air swept up the chute from Hosmer Pond, and I put on my gloves.

"Keep your hands in, and keep your elbows in. You don't want to touch the side of the chute as you're going down, it can burn a hole in your jacket."

There was now no time to hesitate. By this point Jim's legs were wrapped around my waist, and I took the camera down from my head to press "Record" before placing it back on. I acknowledged that I was ready, and Young placed his hand on the long wooden lever which would deploy the sled nose-first down the chute. Despite his kind demeanor, I was reminded of an executioner standing next to a guillotine.

As the sled dipped forward and I caught a glimpse of our steep, silvery path, Jim said from behind me, "Get ready to scream the whole way down!"

This seemed to free me and open the floodgates of emotional release. We shot down the toboggan chute and I screamed, only stopping to take a quick breath and continue, hitting notes found on no musical scale. As the sled swept across the ice and grazed the low edges of the chute, I said a silent prayer that I wouldn't be thrown by the wayside.

In a moment we were speeding across Hosmer Pond. "Just let the sled do what it wants," Jim said. This was easy for me to abide. I wasn't moving. We shot across in a straight line, carving out a path in the soft snow and exposing the icy surface of the pond underneath.

As the sled came to a stop, I thanked Jim for his help and let out a stream of released laughter. We were on the ground, I had all of my fingers and teeth, life was good.

"I think we might have hit 30 mph," Jim said.

"That's good enough for me," I replied.

"Did you get it to record?" he asked.

I took the camera off of my head and held it in front of me. As I tried to examine it the sun beat down from the sky, and I couldn't see the red "Record" light blinking. Had I, too been foiled by the toboggan chute? Would I have to do it again?

First toboggan ride
Camden Herald reporter Louis Bettcher rides down the toboggan chute at the Camden Snow Bowl for the first time on Feb. 3. (Video by: Louis Bettcher)
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