CAMDEN – At the base of the 400-foot-long toboggan chute, spectators could hear a low rumbling just after the Seven Second Screamers launched out of the starting gate.

The rattling of their wooden toboggan grew to a roar as Terry Barron, Lisa Berg and Diane Fries whizzed down the icy track, crossing the finish line in 9.6 seconds.

It was the team’s first time participating in the U.S. National Toboggan Championships, which conclude today at the Camden Snow Bowl.

Starting from an elevation of 70 feet, teams were crossing the finish line in eight to 10 seconds.

“All I could see was sky,” Barron said of her ride down the chute, which she described as bumpy but comfortable because she was lying flat.

The 21st annual championships drew more than 400 teams from the United States and abroad. Each team did its best to maximize speeds, which topped 40 mph.

Just before their first run, Alex Smeaton of Portland and Matt Duncan of Denver used terry cloth rags to polish the bottom of their sled. This was Duncan’s first time participating, but last year Smeaton’s team won in the collegiate division.

“It’s about making (the bottom of the sled) as smooth as you can,” said George Smeaton, Alex’s father.

Tom Cox, the head inspector of toboggans for the championships, said a lot of teams use wax similar to the type used on cross-country skis.

The sleds themselves must comply with specific regulations.

Each one has to be between 15.5 and 20 inches wide, the wood slats cannot be more than 2 inches wide and railings cannot protrude on the bottom more than a quarter-of-an-inch, Cox said.

Toboggans must be at least 6 feet long for two people or 7 to 12 feet long for a three- or four-person team, he said, and every sled needs some kind of padding for the riders.

“It is a fairly competitive event for 50 different groups,” Cox said, which is why there are so many rules to follow. “But most people are here for fun.”

Berg, who came up from Massachusetts, and the Seven Second Screamers weren’t just competing in the race. They were part of a larger group of 16 people who donned penguin hats that Berg hand sewed. The one male in the group was dressed in a full penguin costume.

“It’s the costume prize we’re after,” Berg said.

But they have last year’s costume champions, the Royal Dutch National Toboggan Team, to contend with. The four-man squad from the Netherlands sported gold face paint this year, along with towering headpieces that looked like flames of orange and gold.

Hans Haan explained that the colors symbolize royalty in their country.

The championships, sponsored in part by MaineToday Media, continue through today with final runs starting at noon. Awards will be presented around 3 p.m. to the three fastest teams for two-, three- and four-person toboggans, as well as a children’s division. The fastest high school, college and all-female teams will receive awards, in addition to the oldest team and the team with the best costume.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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