Dalhousie’s concrete toboggan team ready for London race

Engineering students have their 300-pound toboggan ready to go. The only problem has been the lack of snow.

The concrete team in their banana-themed toboggan
The concrete team in their banana-themed toboggan (Photo: Alanna Fenton)

The yellow banana-shaped toboggan is in the shop and ready to go to London, Ont., for the big race this coming week.

The concrete toboggan team began in the early 1970s with 20 Canadian schools now competing each year.

Rachel Mann is in her last year of mechanical engineering and is the co-captain of the team. She says five people travel down in the toboggan at a time with three runs of competition. The race consists of going straight down the hill between pylons, steering and king of the hill, which is judged on the shortest breaking distance and fastest time.

One of the most important parts of the race is what is known as the spirit component. This year the spirit team only consists of one person trying to organize the theme, which is bananas in pajamas. Everything involving the toboggan and the team has to do with the theme of bananas. The team will have a banana stand with banana smoothies, while also handing out banana marshmallows. Each team has a skit made up at the start and cheers throughout to get everyone involved.

The focus at the start of the year is the consistency of the concrete. The team devotes up to two days to trying out nine different mixes to see what is best in terms of hardness and air capacity. Teams have to meet certain requirements, such as limiting the weight of the toboggan to 300 pounds, ensuring the running surface is entirely concrete and including a breaking and steering system.

The toboggan team is for anyone and everyone who wishes to be a part of it, not just for engineering students. The team works together until the job is done and even invites an outside guest.

“We are fortunate to have a great guy, Albert, that welds our frame for us. Thankfully he’ll do it all for a case of beer,” says Mann.

As for practicing, the team usually practices on a hill just out of the city, except for this year.

“We actually haven’t been able to practice because we have had no snow in the past week,” Mann says.

However, the team has worked hard in making sure everything is in place for the one day a year they compete.

“It’s all built up to this one day,” she says.

Engineering students Alanna Fenton and Brendon Collwill, think the whole process is worth it. As part of the concrete team, they meet twice a week to make sure everything is in working order.

“We had to determine out of the nine mixes which one had the best properties and the certain ingredients that go in it,” Colwill says.

They also try and make sure it’s sustainable.

Co-captain of the toboggan team Rachel Mann smiles at a job well done
Co-captain of the toboggan team Rachel Mann smiles at a job well done (Photo: Alanna Fenton)

“We don’t want to use too much of one because it could be too harmful to the environment.”

Colwill and Fenton hope future employers will notice their involvement.

“It’s fun, it gives a hands-on experience and looks great on a resume. Apparently it’s gold in employers’ eyes as they see you are a team player and have experience from it,” says Colwill.

“The most fun part for me is actually making the skis and sanding them down to look awesome,” Fenton says.

The team went to Vancouver last year and is heading off to London, Ont. Jan. 29 to show their spirit of bananas in pajamas.