CAMDEN — The countdown to the fast-paced fun is hours away and excitement continues to build more quickly than a 40-mile-per-hour toboggan ride down the icy 400-foot wooden chute, which, ultimately, takes less than 10 seconds.

The three-day, 31st annual U.S. National Toboggan Championships, with more than 400 race teams and 1,230 participants, begins on Friday, Feb. 11 and concludes on Sunday, Feb. 13.

With the ongoing pandemic, COVD-19-related protocols have been put in place for the event. Masks are required inside buildings. That includes the lodge, which is the policy for staff and guests this ski season.

To cut down on crowding when teams arrive to check-in, racers have been asked to sign the online waiver before arrival.

Holly Anderson, toboggan committee co-chairperson, said the response to the new request has been wonderful.

“I think given that we have all adjusted to changes in how we live and do business due to COVID, it makes sense to the racers that there will be changes in how we run the event,” Anderson said.

Registration to participate in the races is closed and the fields full. There are 110 two-person teams, 110 three-person teams, 170 four-person teams and six experimental teams registered for the event.

Experimental teams run a non-traditional toboggan that can be heavier than 50 pounds, made of other materials like carbon fiber and have a non-regulation curl or slats.

“Needless to say, teams are very excited about the upcoming event,” Anderson said. “Both returning teams and new teams are calling and emailing with questions and lots of enthusiasm.”

Team check-in and toboggan inspections will be on Friday, Feb. 11 from noon to 7 p.m. in Tobogganville. Racers are encouraged to show up Friday and get the work done so they can focus on racing and having a fun time on Saturday.

The event kicks off on Saturday, Feb. 12 at 8 a.m. with the two-person and three-person divisions taking the first of two runs. After a lunch break, the four-person teams have their opportunity to take a run in the qualifying round, and this group will take their second qualifying run on Sunday morning, Feb. 13, beginning at 9 a.m.

By noon on Sunday, there will be a list of teams that qualified for the finals, and racing picks up again with each division taking two runs for combined times that will determine winners.

Winners take home handmade, one-of-a-kind, mahogany trophies and swag from sponsors.

Anderson said the event welcomes the return of Gold sponsor, Camden National Bank, and new Gold sponsors, Ariens and RTIC Outdoors. “We also appreciate all of our other sponsors, many returning and a couple of new ones this year,” she said.

The steel drum group, Planet Pan, will travel again from Blue Hill to serenade the costumed racers in the big parade on Saturday around noon. There will be food vendors, along with Sea Dog Brewing, serving to the masses. The Camden and Rockport Select Boards will race for their special trophy, which Camden has held on to for at least four straight years, on Saturday at 11 a.m.

Spectators are encouraged to take the shuttle bus to the Snow Bowl, especially on Saturday. This will save the limited parking for toboggan teams, many of whom are bringing their own toboggans to race, Anderson said.

The shuttle cost is $5 round trip, pickup/dropoff on Elm Street at the Village Green. Free public parking is available downtown in the lot beside the public safety building on Washington Street, at the Public Landing and behind Knox Mill across the street from the public safety building.

As a reminder, vehicle access to Hosmer Pond is prohibited from the Snow Bowl, the only public access, Saturday and Sunday. There also is no parking along Molyneaux and Hosmer Pond roads during the event, and the parking lot at the Snow Bowl fills early. Cost to park at the Snow Bowl is $10 per car and is limited.

The event, a fundraiser for the Snow Bowl, has been held annually for three decades, triumphing over weather challenges, and warm temperatures. The only time the event was sidelined was last year, due to restrictions during the height of the pandemic. The race committee met trying to determine a way forward, and still be able to hold the event in some capacity, but, ultimately, put it on pause.

The event was conceived in 1991 as a mid-winter lark and way to celebrate the rebuilding of the historic 400-foot wooden toboggan chute, which originally was constructed by community volunteers in the 1930s. The event has grown to become an important economic engine for the Midcoast, as it brings thousands of racers and spectators to Camden and surrounding areas during the winter season.

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