The U of O team's concrete toboggan was designed to excel at a number of events, including slalom. Photo: Eric Davidson.
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U of O team competes against other engineering students across North America

The University of Ottawa hosted 21 teams of engineering students from colleges and universities across Canada and the United States for the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race 2016, an annual event put on by a group of current students and alumni of the university to showcase and test different designs of each team’s concrete toboggan.

“This year was the largest GNCTR ever,” said Adrian Pawliszko, one of the organizers of the event.  “Generally the competition has 400–415 submitters. This year we have 525.” 

The event, which showed off the designs at the showcase before putting them to the test, took place Jan. 27–31.

Teams usually start the design process as early as September, and are required to follow several guidelines.

Each toboggan’s running surface must be made out of concrete, each toboggan must be under 350 lbs, must carry five people, and have a roll cage and braking and steering system.

“It’s almost a year’s work for some people on the team, and you get to see it all realized in four days,” said Alex Boucher, a member of the University of Ottawa team. “The only way you can describe it is absolute craziness.”

This year’s competition was divided into five events, with one event happening each day—opening ceremonies, competitor interaction day, a technical exhibition to show off the designs to the public, the competition day, and closing ceremonies on the last day during which all of the awards are handed out. “It’s similar to a mini engineering Olympics,” said Pawliszko.

Boucher, who drove the toboggan for the competing U of O team, said it was a unique experience. “You feel safe… you feel a little unsafe too,” he said of his experience of tobogganing downhill at almost 46 km/h. “You can’t really compare it to skiing or just regular tobogganing, it’s pretty wild.”

This year, the University of Western Ontario came in first place, the University of British Columbia in second, and the University of Calgary came in third overall. The event also recognized the most improved team, best theoretical toboggan, most aesthetically pleasing, best non-competing team, best concrete mix, best breaking design, best steering design, best team spirit, and the people’s choice award.

The teams participated in three different events on the day of the competition, including a slalom race to test the steering system, a drag race to test out the top speed of the toboggan and a head-to-head elimination race called “King of the Hill”.

Aside from the winners of these individual events, teams competed for high rankings overall among the competing teams. The University of Ottawa Team placed 8th overall in the competition. They also had the second best technical report and the second best braking system.

Boucher said that while the U of O team didn’t place first, they improved a lot from last year. “We should have a really good team next year,” he said.