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Taking it all in slide: Concrete toboggan race draws hundreds of engineering students

Mechanical engineering students from across the country congregated in Clarenville for the 50th annual Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race on Saturday.

Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race was first held in Atlantic Canada

A man in a back jacket and ski goggles sits on a skidoo on a ski slope.
Marke Dickson, general manager of the White Hills Ski Resort, says it's an honour to host the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race in Atlantic Canada for the first time. (Jessica Singer/CBC)

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. 

A group of eight people in red overalls stand around a car-shaped toboggan.
Memorial University's toboggan team lost a ski on the way down the slope, but their spirits were high. (Jessica Singer/CBC)

"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.

WATCH | Hundreds of students meet up for Canada's largest student engineering competition: 

N.L. hosts Atlantic Canada’s 1st concrete toboggan race

2 months ago
Duration 3:13
Skis and snowboards weren’t the only things sliding down the slopes at White Hills resort in Clarenville on Saturday. Concrete toboggans were also racing down the hills, in a first for Atlantic Canada. The CBC’s Jessica Singer slides over to the 50th Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race.

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." 

A man in a jersey and a winter hat stands on a ski slope.
Regan Hogan, who competed in the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race when he was a mechanical engineering student and now helps organize the event, says the energy on the slopes is electric. (Jessica Singer/CBC)

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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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Antle

Journalist

Sarah Antle is a journalist working with CBC in the St. John's bureau.

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