Toboggan

Hills of Thrills

Tobogganing ruled Winter Carnival a century ago

“Never was there a happier winter revel,” raved DAM in 1914 after the fourth Winter Carnival. Festivities took flight the next year, thanks to funding from the Rev. John E. Johnson, class of 1866, for a toboggan slide and ski jump next to the golf course.

In the 1920s Carnival goers chose between dizzying toboggan chutes overlooking Occom Pond and Memorial Field. “The high-pitched ‘yips’ of excited girls could be heard for blocks” in 1923, according to the magazine, as toboggans shot down Occom Pond Ridge and across the icy expanse. Aprés precipitous plummeting, students and their dates returned to town for “a lightning-like change to evening clothes” and dances that lasted until dawn.

In 1925 the Carnival began with a figure skating show and intercollegiate skating races at Memorial Field that drew 5,000 spectators. Afterward, tobogganers sped along snow-packed lanes in the stadium’s staircases and touched down at the 40-yard line.

Incandescent bulbs illuminated the Occom Pond run at night. “We had three rides on it one very fast night. O, you sure do go. I’m sure at least forty miles an hour. It is all iced,” wrote an anonymous 1926 tobogganer. A newly built 30-foot tower—whose construction required the town to close the neighborhood road for a week—ensured the downhill racers would have enough momentum to cross the pond and coast to the Outing Club House.

Over the years tobogganing’s place as an official part of Carnival melted into memories. But Valerie Armento ’73 recalls that in her day students often tobogganed on the golf course. “It was simply social fun,” she recalls.

“Cold, beautiful evenings and great fun with friends” are what Rick Sample ’74 remembers. “We had two big wooden toboggans that would fit five or six people that we would pull to the golf course, sometimes with a quarter keg. We’d often have a group of 15 to 20, especially on weekends. We’d take off from the third fairway on the ridge and ride to the second fairway below.”

When students tired of riding toboggans while sitting, they used them as surfboards. “We never succeeded making the run while standing, but that didn’t dissuade us,” says Sample. “Half the fun was the fall and crash on the way down. Because we were so bundled up and there was always enough snow, nobody was ever hurt.”

For the freshman soccer team, angels—perhaps summoned by the Rev. Johnson— were “working overtime” the Saturday of the 1960 Winter Carnival, according to Ed Mazer ’63. It was unusually dark that night. When team members zoomed down the run, about two-thirds of the way, they suddenly found themselves soaring in the air.

After sailing some distance, they landed with a heavy thud. “We were amazed we were still all in one piece,” he recalls. They looked back up the hill and saw they had accidentally flown off the ski jump.

“The only excuse I can offer for our behavior is that it seemed like a good idea at the time,” says Mazer.     

View a slideshow of toboggan images here.                                         

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