One of the best parts of the U.S. National Toboggan Championships each year is watching the new racers make their way up the mountain scared out of their wits, according to Toboggan Championship Committee Co-Chairman Holly Edwards.

She said she always encourages lots of spectators to come to the event, because when you watch it one year, you compete the next. And those new competitors carrying their freshly greased-up, six- to 12-foot toboggans often need a pep talk to get up the wooden steps to the place where they will be launched down the 400-foot-long, ice-covered wooden chute onto Hosmer Pond.

Edwards said she reminds them, the whole ride, win or lose, only takes 7 to 9 seconds. The toboggans travel at about 40 mph.

The event, which fields a maximum of 425 teams, or 1,300 racers, and up to 5,000 spectators, according to organizers, is almost here, and the long-range weather forecast is favorable. The championships take place Feb. 9-11. Edwards said she is receiving calls from people new to the competition and veterans, and they are "psyched!"

As of Friday, Feb. 2, 340 teams had signed up, and Edwards said that number was rising.

The wooden toboggan chute at the Camden Snow Bowl is the only one of its kind in the United States launching toboggan racers onto a frozen lake. It dates back to 1937. In 1991 it was dedicated as the Jack R. Williams Toboggan Chute and the first championships were held that year, according to information provided by the organizers. The event was created by Williams and the late Camden Parks and Recreation Director Ken Bailey.

The event has grown over the years and now serves as a major economic boost in February to the Camden area and surrounding Midcoast region. During the three days of races, area hotels are booked and restaurants see an increase in business. It also promotes the town-owned Snow Bowl.

While it manages to do this, spectators are welcome to come and watch the events free of charge. A festive, tailgating atmosphere develops on the mountain where many competitors and spectators grill their favorite foods, ranging from burgers and sausages to venison, and those who do not want to bring along food and gear can enjoy service from the vendors.

Edwards noted that there is no one dedicated theme and teams are encouraged to come up with their own costumes and unique names. A quick look at the roster shows teams with names such as "Frozen Boogers," "Rocky Balboggan Two," and "Chute First and Ask Questions Later." Teams can take home trophies for best costume as well as for best time.

Edwards said she has been fielding a number of common questions, the most frequent being, "Do we need to have our own toboggan?" She said the organizers do have toboggans available for people to use. You will find many of the serious competitors not only have their own toboggans, but make their own. This is a long process requiring special tools and skills to bend green ash wood for the creation of a regulation toboggan.

The toboggans range from six to 12 feet in length, but she said the smaller end of the scale can only be used for two-person teams.

We asked the big question: what is the best way to lubricate the toboggan, but she would not give away any of the trade secrets, other than to say many teams use ski wax. Many local competitors, especially those who are serious, use a variety of mixtures that are highly proprietary and in some cases top secret to get the best slide on the ice.

Maintaining the ice on the chute can be challenging. The event organizers use a prototype of a mini-"Zamboni"-like device, sometimes in the early hours of the morning, lowering it on a pulley and running it up and down the chute to resurface the ice. It is made from a lobster tote, piping and jugs of water.

One of the stories of triumph this year involves not the racers, but one of the organizers. Committee Co-Chairman and longtime volunteer Stuart Young had to have part of his leg amputated due to infections in 2017. The community has rallied around him with a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for his medical expenses, and he has received a lot of good will and support.

Young was at the Snow Bowl Feb. 2 helping promote the event for "Media Day," and it is his goal to somehow get to the top of the toboggan chute for the event next week.

He stressed that this is not an event that volunteers and organizers only think about from December to March each year. It takes year-round planning, and the chute itself requires regular maintenance. A lot of hard work goes into making this an event that is a boon for both the Snow Bowl and the town.

Edwards said her favorite part each year is seeing all the familiar faces on the mountain — people who come every year and have a blast.

The event starts Feb. 9 with registration and toboggan inspections, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and continues Feb. 10 with races, vendors and costume contest. On Feb. 11 there will be more races, finals and awards.

A full schedule of events will be posted in The Camden Herald Feb. 8.