The average wooden toboggan or crazy carpet may seem like a fairly simple thing, but that's not the case for a group of engineering students taking the toboggan to a whole new level. Thirty University of Calgary students competed in the 2011 Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race held in Edmonton from Jan. 26-30.
"The event was originally conceived starting in the fall of 1973 when the American Concrete Institute asked one of the students at the University of Calgary as to why they hadn't competed in their competition the concrete canoe race," said GNCTR organizing committee co-chair Nigel Parker. "They jokingly responded that it's a little hard to practice up here in the winter 'cause the water is frozen."
The U of C students then sent invitations to the U of A, NAIT and SAIT and the first event was held in 1975 in Red Deer. The competition has evolved over the years and expanded in membership, but some founding rules are still in place today. The toboggan can weigh no more than 300 pounds and must hold five people, explained Parker.
"Each toboggan outside of those two rules has to have a functional role bar, steering and braking systems," said Parker. "They can get quite complex, especially regarding the brakes as well as the concrete mix design are often very unique due to the weight restriction."
The toboggans can go as fast as 75 kilometres per hour. The whole running surface has to be concrete and teams are allowed to wax their toboggans if they so choose said U of C GNCTR project manager Allison Hofmann.
Teams are required to wear certified motorcycle helmets as a safety precaution. Every toboggan under goes a safety inspection before being allowed in competition said Parker.
One member of the U of C team was injured in a crash while riding the U of C alumni toboggan.
"The hill was really icy because it was cold and before it had been really warm, so it was really icy," said Hofmann. "He's in the hospital, but he'll be fine."
There were more crashes this year than in past years said Hofmann.
There are 19 different awards categories at the race ranging from best overall, fastest toboggan, costumes, team spirit to technical awards with a number of different judging methods and criteria.
"For certain things such as top speed that would be very empirical, it's whatever the radar gun says," said Parker.
The technical awards are usually judged by industry members or professors. This year the Canadian society of civil engineers Edmonton chapter had the honour.
Event organizers design the racetracks which vary depending on the year. Tracks are usually 15 feet wide with barriers on the side to keep the toboggan on the course and have hay bails at the bottom.
There were 19 competing teams and two non-competing teams at this year's GNCTR.
"Non-competing doesn't mean they're not racing," said Parker. "It just means they're racing a sled which has raced prior and therefore doesn't qualify to win most of the awards."
The U of C team is made up of 30 engineering students.
"The University of Calgary is always one of the major contributors to the competition because they were one of the founding teams, so they are generally one of the biggest teams," said U of C GNCTR project manager Anthony Ferrise."This year our theme is actually 'Sledementary, my dear Watson.' So each team has a theme and we have a Sherlock Holmes theme and our toboggan is themed to look like a chariot or a horse-drawn carriage essentially."
At last year's race the U of C team came in second overall. The team had high expectations going into this year.
"Last year was a really solid year. We actually won a lot of technical awards. We won best concrete mix design, best use of fly ash in concrete, best reinforcing design, we came second in super structure and second in brake and we also came third in spirit," said Ferrise.
This year's team bettered last year's performance with a first overall finish. The team collected awards for best costume, best technical exhibit, best reinforcement, people's choice (as voted by all the teams), second in spirit and best use of fly ash. The U of C alumni team used the toboggan from last year and won best non-competing team.
"We got the people's choice award, which was voted by the other teams as just a favourite, which there's no really criteria for that. That meant a lot to us," said Hofmann. "We have 400-plus people and we're all in costume and we're going out together and eating together, the comraderie is insane. Everybody's cheering for everybody else and you make great friends."