A small ski resort tucked away in Clarenville on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula welcomed almost 400 engineering students from 16 schools across Canada on the weekend — gathering to race toboggans made of concrete.
Saturday’s 50th Annual Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race at White Hills Resort was the first one held in Atlantic Canada. Marke Dickson, the resort’s general manager, called it “an honour.”
“It’s really unique to see the students here,” he said. “Most of them have never been to Newfoundland and Labrador. Most of them have certainly never been to White Hills Resort, so they are excited.”
Each competing team designs and builds a toboggan with concrete running surfaces, a safety roll cage and a mechanical steering and braking system.
Each toboggan must weigh less than 350 pounds — just under 160 kilograms — and carry five competitors.
“It really is a terrific atmosphere,” Dickson said, looking out at the snowy hills, toboggans strewn around and students milling about.
One of those toboggans belongs to a team from Memorial University. Team co-captain Riley Burt says it was nerve-racking to be at the top of the hill, tucked inside the toboggan with four of his friends, ready to race to the bottom.
“I was sweating bullets,” he said with a laugh.
Shaylin Hurtubise, MUN’s other co-captain, was stationed at the braking system. If she hits the brakes too early, the team is disqualified.
“It’s tight and everybody’s a little bit nervous, a little bit excited,” she said.
“I don’t even think anything could make me less excited,” she said. “Like even if we crashed, [if] it wasn’t allowed to race … it doesn’t remove from any of the excitement.”
MUN’s team did cross the finish line but their toboggan didn’t make it through in one piece. During the bumpy ride down the slope, the team lost one of their concrete skis. Not to be deterred, the group shimmied around inside the structure to heave it past the finish line.
Regan Hogan competed in the race in 2018 when he was a student in MUN’s mechanical engineering program. Now he helps organize the event, and he said the energy on the hills on the weekend was “electric.”
Teams don’t score points only from the race, Hogan said — there’s a robust scoring system.
“There’s different categories that are taken into account. Race day is one of them, braking design, steering design. Spirit is a huge component,” he said. “Whoever is having the most fun gets some points.”
Dickson said the visiting engineers showed up at a great time.
“I think they’re seeing the best of our part of the world, especially with the sun shining like it is.”
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