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Who’s up for a race in a concrete toboggan? These Edmonton engineering students, that’s who

With only days to spare before NAIT’s concrete toboggan was due to be shipped from Edmonton to Newfoundland for a national competition, the team finally got enough snow for a test run. 

“We thought, ‘OK, this is our last chance,'” said Karan Mann, president of NAIT’s Great Northern Toboggan Race Club.

“We’re a new team. We need to make sure that we get out there and test it because we definitely don’t want to go to Newfoundland and make fools of ourselves.”

In February, 18 NAIT engineering students competed at the 50th annual Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race at White Hills Resort, 120 kilometres northwest of St. John’s, N.L.

The competition, which began in 1974 in Red Deer, Alta., tasks hundreds of students from almost 20 post-secondary institutions with building concrete toboggans capable of safely carrying participants down a snowy slope.

The purpose is to give students a chance to showcase and practise their engineering skills.

Teams have to design and construct their own toboggans with mandatory features including a roll cage, concrete running surfaces, and steering and braking systems.

“[The toboggans are] supposed to fit five people and weigh under 350 pounds, and then we race them downhill,” said Mann.

A covered contraption for sliding on snow, painted in red and black to look like a train engine.
NAIT’s Boggwarts Express, with concrete sliders at each corner, has a roll cage, steering and brakes. (Submitted by Karan Mann)

While other teams worked on their entries for nearly a year, the NAIT project came together in about four months, said Lindsey Jackson, vice-president of the club.

During that time, the club had to build a team, raise funds, and design and fabricate their toboggan, named Boggwarts Express in a nod to Harry Potter and the train that dutifully carries students to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

“Compared to other universities, we had no time and no money at all,” Jackson told CBC’s Radio Active.

One day to test

The team faced a lot of obstacles as it prepared for the competition, and Mann said the testing process was “a very crazy turn of events.”

On Jan. 11, during a frigid cold snap, the NAIT team gathered whatever members it could muster for an impromptu trial run at Connors Hill, next to the Edmonton Ski Club in the North Saskatchewan River valley.

“We had just one chance,” Mann said. “We got the toboggan out there, and it was kind of a bare-bones team.

“It was bitterly cold. It was terrible.”

The team completed a successful test run and shipped the toboggan out the next day. Mann said the lack of snow meant NAIT was the only Alberta team able to test its sled before the competition.

WATCH | ‘We affectionately called ours the Boggwarts Express’:

Boggwarts Express: an Edmonton concrete toboggan wins in Newfoundland

2 days ago

Duration 1:36

A team of NAIT civil engineering technology students have cemented their little spot in history. They designed a concrete toboggan and shipped it to Newfoundland to compete against other schools in the 2024 Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race.

In Newfoundland, the NAIT team, with five students aboard, slid downhill inside their sled.

It performed well during the 20-second run, and its unique theme helped the students win an award for the most attractive toboggan.

“That’s where our design work for the train really shone,” Jackson said.

The club also picked up other awards, including for best new team and for third-best brakes.

The toboggan is now back in Edmonton, sitting in Mann’s garage.

It’s due for some TLC before it goes on display in the Applied Sciences building at NAIT.

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