Let It Slide
Maineâs Camden Toboggan Company builds wooden sleds for the annual National Toboggan Championship.
Every February, way up in Maine where the Camden mountains meet Penobscot Bay, some 8,000 revelers come from as far away as Florida to barrel down the Camden Snow Bowlâs 400-foot-long snow-covered chute during the United States National Toboggan Championships. And when they arrive in their warmest winter gear via buses, planes, trains, and caravans, many of them stop at a modest workshopâsimply known as Camden Toboggan Companyâto pick up a freshly handcrafted wooden sled.
It was 21 years ago that David Nazaroff set out to build these toboggans for the two-day event at the suggestion of a friend. Although Nazaroff, the owner of a general contracting company, was a former winter-mountaineering instructor for Outward Bound, heâd never built anything like a sled, and wasnât sure how to create its signature curved front. âBut before we even made [the prototypes] the phones started to ring,â he says. âSo we figured it out.â By Christmas, he and his team had produced four toboggans for a local coupleâs sons.
Over the course of the next year, Nazaroff perfected his technique, ultimately selling close to 50 sleds by the time the next competition rolled around. âIn Maine, in the winter,â he says, âthereâs not a heck of a lot that goes on. But this event attracts people from all over.â
These days, Nazaroff and his chief toboggan maker, David Reed, buy native white ash from local loggers, then send the pieces to a nearby mill, where they are cut into thin planks. Back in the Camden workshop, they use sanding and edging machines to ensure the planks are smooth and uniform. âOnce thatâs done, we put âem in the steamer and try to bend them,â Nazaroff says, referring to his custom-built 6-foot-long cedar âsteam boxâ that hangs from the shopâs ceiling. After about 10 minutes in the warm, humid air, the planks are soft enough to bend around the wooden form, giving the toboggan its signature J shape. When the pieces are cool and dry, theyâre ready for assembly.
For years, Nazaroff and his construction workers entered the competition themselves with lighthearted team names like âAsh Menâ and âPiece of Ash,â once coming in third or fourth placeâNazaroff canât quite recall. For him, like most participants, winning really isnât the point: Itâs simply about the joy of flying down a mountain at full throttle.
There are, however, a few tricks competitors can employ should they wish to increase their chances of a victory. âPeople often ask me, âWhatâs the secret to a fast toboggan?ââ Nazaroff says. âFrankly, I think itâs the number of coats of urethane. But I like to tell them to put wax on itâ bowling-alley wax. Itâs not high-tech, but if you put it on a wooden floor, youâll slide across it in your socks pretty fast.â
Clockwise from top left, planks are tied off with string to keep them curved; Nazaroff uses vibrant twine for the tobogganâs tow rope; each toboggan is stamped and numbered.
The sleds, which retail for around $350 each, are made with native white ash from local loggers and rope from SeaSide, in Warren, Maine.
Toboggan-maker David Reed fits planks together seamlessly.
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/home-design/article/2013/12/03/camden-toboggan-company-maine/