In early February, competitors on wooden toboggans will be dropped onto an icy, 400-foot chute on Ragged Mountain and reach speeds of more than 40 mph before being spilled onto frozen Hosmer Pond. In the coming weeks — for the 20th straight winter — that will be the scenario for one weekend at the Camden Snow Bowl.

Hundreds of teams — many dressed in elaborate, unique and often hilarious costumes — will create both excitement and laughter at the 20th running of the U.S. National Toboggan Championships at the Snow Bowl. The anniversary event will take place Friday through Sunday, Feb. 5-7.

The competition is a throwback from the days when toboggan runs were common and serves as the centerpiece of the area’s “Ice-Stravaganza” week, featuring all things Maine: including skiing, toboggan races, ice carvings, fireworks, chili/chowder challenges, winter triathlon and pancake breakfasts. The fun and excitement for all ages runs Saturday, Jan. 30, through Sunday, Feb. 7.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of the toboggan championships, this year’s event will include a race to determine a new reigning world champion four-person team. The first world toboggan championship race was held in 2005 to commemorate the event’s 15th anniversary. All four-person first-place teams from the past 20 years will be invited for a one-run, winner-take-all runoff on Sunday, Feb. 7, at the conclusion of the races.

Teams invited to compete in a 2010 world championship runoff will be: The Nads (1991), The Knoxers (1992), Throbbin’ Boggins (1993), Big Kahoonas (1994, 1995, 2005, reigning world toboggan champions), Slab City Sliders (1996 and 1997), Thrill Seeking Patriots (1998), Beefy Boys (1999), Head of the Boards (2000), Quatro Dermis (2001), Foul Wind (2002) and Vertically Inclined (2003).

The U.S. National Toboggan Championships are open to two-, three- and four-person teams riding traditionally shaped wood toboggans that drop onto the 400-foot-long, 70-foot-high, ice-filled chute reaching speeds of up to 40 mph before sliding across frozen Hosmer Pond.

Beth Ward of the Camden Snow Bowl said the ice on Hosmer Pond looked good at the end of last week despite the warmer than usual winter weather the area has experienced. “They checked it last weekend and said it was 12 inches [thick],” Ward said.

Ward said cold temperatures would have continued to make the ice thicker, but several inches of rain earlier this week and warm recent temperatures certainly will lessen the ice thickness. Fortunately, the event is not for another 10 days or so.

State ice thickness guidelines state that around 8 inches of ice is strong enough to hold a light truck, 2 inches for one person and nearly 4 inches for a small group of people. Ward said event organizers make sure the ice is thick enough to drive a vehicle on before feeling the pond is safe for spectators and toboggan racers.

Despite the rain and brief run of warmer weather, Ward said the ice still looks good. There is some debris on the pond, but that will be cleared in time for the event. She hopes that, with the expected cold snap coming along with the now snow-free ice on the pond, the ice will thicken quickly and be ready for the toboggans and spectators in a little more than a week.

As of Jan. 28, Ward said there were roughly 20 team spaces still available only in the four-person division.

“We have nearly 380 teams registered,” said Ward. “The Chili and Chowder Challenge has been filled with their restaurants.”

“We’re looking forward to a fantastic year. We have a lot of great vendors,” she said of the event’s 20th anniversary.

Ken Bailey of Hope again will emcee the toboggan nationals, an event he started 20 years ago when he was the town’s parks and recreation director. Bailey, who has been battling illness in recent years, has only missed attending the toboggan national a few years.

Use of the shuttle service provided is strongly advised as the parking lot will fill quickly with skiers, snowboarders, tubers, spectators and tobogganers, Ward said. The shuttle has three different pickup/drop off locations in downtown Camden. A shuttle map is available online at camdensnowbowl.com

“This year’s Winterfest and the U.S. National Toboggan Championships are the must-see and be-seen-at events of the season here in New England,” said Daniel Bookham, executive director of the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce. “Experiencing this year’s Ice-Stravaganza will challenge your sense of adventure, with good old-fashioned winter fun. It’s one of the few winter events where you’ll find it is as much fun to watch as it is to participate.”

The toboggan nationals come as the culmination of more than a week-long schedule of activities during the 2010 Ice-Stravaganza in Camden, Rockport and Lincolnville.

“Families, couples and those looking for outdoor adventure will find a host of activities for varying ages and abilities designed to let our visitors experience all things Maine. Winter is an amazing time, and nowhere is it showcased better than in the Midcoast, where the mountains meet the sea,” said Bookham.

Media day for the toboggan nationals has been moved to Thursday, Feb. 4, at 11 a.m. at the Snow Bowl. At that time, members of the media can interview organizers and take a ride down the chute.

The U.S. National Toboggan Championships are the only organized wooden toboggan races in the country and perhaps the world. Each February, racers of all ages and abilities from around the country compete for the coveted honor of U.S. National Champion, with all race proceeds benefiting local youth activities and the Camden Snow Bowl.

The schedule for the weekend of the toboggan nationals includes:

Friday, Feb. 5

Noon-8 p.m. — Check-in and toboggan inspections at the Snow Bowl Lodge.

1-4 p.m. — Practice runs for preregistered teams (conditions permitting).

10 a.m. to 8 p.m. — Snow Bowl open for skiing and snowboarding.

5-7 p.m. — Spaghetti supper at the Rockport Masonic Center, Main Street.

Saturday, Feb. 6

7-9 a.m. — Pancake breakfast at the Camden Teen Center, Knowlton Street.

7 a.m. to noon — Check-in and toboggan inspections at information booth near the chute.

8 a.m. to noon — Qualifying runs for two- and three-person teams (first and second runs).

8 a.m. to 4 p.m. —  Free ongoing shuttle service ($5 on-site parking fee).

9 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Snow Bowl open for skiing, snowboarding and tubing. Souvenirs available at the Chute Shop.

11 a.m. to 2 p.m. — Chili & Chowder Challenge (on-site).

1- 4 p.m. — Qualifying runs for four-person teams (first run).

5:30 p.m. — Fireworks in downtown Camden.

7:30 p.m. — Audio Body at the Camden Opera House, tickets $10 in advance and $14 at door.

Sunday, Feb. 7

7-9 a.m. — Pancake breakfast on-site.

9 a.m. — Qualifying runs for four-person teams (second run).

9 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Free shuttle service ($5 on-site parking fee).

9 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Snow Bowl open for skiing, snowboarding and tubing. Souvenirs available at the Chute Shop.

National finals: 
Top 30 of two-person teams; 
top 30 of three-person teams; and 
top 75 of four-person teams. (TBA)

World championship finals: four-person team winners of the past 20 years. (TBA)

3 p.m. — Awards ceremonies and drawings.

Click for a slideshow from the 2009 event provided by photojournalist Jason McKibben. He can be reached a jasonmckibben.com.

The schedule for the 8th annual Camden Hills Winterfest Ice-Stravaganza includes:

Saturday, Jan. 30 —

Community ice carving, Harbor Park, Amphitheatre, all day.

Snow Ball Dance, Rockport Opera House, 6:30 p.m.

Moonlight X-Country Skiing, Aldermere Farm, 6:30 p.m.

Sunday, Jan. 31 —

Global Cinema Visions, Camden Opera House, 2 p.m.

International Film Festival Afternoon at the Movies.

Thursday, Feb. 4 —

Musical: “The Cause,” Camden Public Library, 7 p.m.

Friday through Sunday, Feb. 5-7 — U.S. National Toboggan Championships

Saturday, Feb. 6 —

Penobscot Bay YMCA indoor triathlon and event to raise money for Haiti. (FMI: penbayymca.net/YourYMCA/Happening.html)

Fireworks, Camden Harbor, 5:30 p.m.

AudioBody, Camden Opera House, 7:30 p.m. (FMI: camdenoperahouse.com/events.cfm)

Other events include, but are not limited to: ski movies, cross-country ski races, art exhibits, cooking classes, furniture-making demonstrations and wine tastings.

VillageSoup sports staff can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at sports@villagesoup.com.