Veterans say the key to speed is to align the toboggan in the starting gate so that it caroms off the flared chute walls as little as possible. Folklore holds that a hearty bellow also improves performance. "Noise is good," said Williams, nodding in approval as four women costumed as The Four Elmos barreled boisterously down the chute. "Noise helps."
The championships even have their own supplier. When construction slowed during the early '90s, Dave Nazaroff, a general contractor, advertised handcrafted toboggans in The Camden Herald—even though he had never made one. He received four Christmas orders on Dec. 19. "The next morning I set out to teach myself how to make a toboggan," he says. "I slept only intermittently that week." The polyurethane finish was still wet when he delivered the toboggans late on Christmas Eve. Today Nazaroff gets phone orders from hopeful racers as far away as California. "People actually request winning toboggans," he says. "I tell them that costs $25 more." He charges $175 for a standard eight-foot toboggan and turns out about 50 a year.
If this year's championships had a top seed, it might well have been the Throbbin' Boggins. These four Camdenites have been a consistent contender in the four-person event (there are also two-person and three-person divisions) since competitive sliding began six years ago. "They're the Dallas Cowboys of tobogganing," says Larry Thomas of the Slab City Sliders, a perennial rival. "By comparison, we're only, say, the Pittsburgh Steelers."
How do the Boggins account for their success? "We have some secrets," Greg Holt coyly concedes. The four Boggins lunge forward in unison as they exit the starting chute, then recline in a streamlined posture with their legs linked around one another's necks.
True to form, the Boggins were second in their division after the two Saturday runs, with a combined time of 18.84, less than half a second behind The Big Kahoonas. Meanwhile, the Slab City Sliders languished in 13th place. Thomas smoothed his homemade toboggan with a razor Saturday night, though he felt the Sliders had little hope of a comeback in Sunday's final round. "We thought we were out of it," he said. In fact, the Sliders recovered with two fast runs to win it all by two hundredths of a second.
The Throbbin' Boggins are already devising ways to accelerate the descent of their sled next year. They divulge nothing for now, except to say that they are pushing sledding's slippery science.