If you build it, they will come. But we’re going to need some big-league toboggans.
It isn’t a baseball story set in a cornfield, but the story of Camden Toboggan Company is a classic American tale – and a Maine original. While there may never be a movie version, Kevin Costner would make a great Jack Williams. Camden Toboggan owner, Dave Nazaroff agrees. It was Williams’ idea to restore the historic toboggan run at Camden Snow Bowl, the picturesque ski area in Camden, Maine, just 4.5 miles from Penobscot Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
First a little backstory. The historic toboggan chute at Snow Bowl, on 1300-foot Ragged Mountain, was originally built in 1936. It underwent its first restoration in the early 1960s, but by 1990 had fallen into disrepair. That’s when local businessman, Jack Williams, hit the snow running with a plan to rebuild the toboggan chute – and something more. From that point forward, Camden, Maine would be the host of the U.S. National Toboggan Championships.
So they built it and, yes, people did come. About a hundred that first year. The next winter, the editor of the Camden Herald and a friend of Dave Nazaroff suggested that Dave run an ad in the paper offering handcrafted toboggans. It was only a minor detail that Dave’s construction company had never built toboggans. The ad ran and the first order came in almost immediately.
“A family called on Wednesday and ordered four toboggans they wanted by Christmas – which was on Saturday,” Dave recalled. “We had to learn how to steam the wood and all that. But by Friday we delivered four slightly wet toboggans. The urethane hadn’t completely dried.”
By the following year’s National Championships, Camden Toboggan Company had sold close to 50 sleds. Fast forward – with an emphasis on bone-rattling, scream-inducing fun – and the annual event draws thousands of racers and revelers. But Camden Toboggan Company, despite occasional outside overtures, continues to hand-produce their one-of-a-kind sleds.
As Dave Nazaroff described it: “There’s a uniqueness to our toboggans because they’re not mass produced. Camden Toboggans are more rugged. And beefier.”
In other words, better made. Taking a bow for that would be the other Dave – Reed. Of course, he’d never actually do that. The last thing Dave Reed wants to do is call attention to himself. But with a beard that’s threatening to become its own state forest, he’s pretty hard to miss.
Also hard to miss is the quality, craftsmanship and aesthetic beauty of these sleds. “That’s the other thing about Camden Toboggans,” Dave Nazaroff offered. “We couldn’t possibly mass produce them. Because Dave Reed builds each one."
Dave Reed is a man of abundant skill and dedication, but generally few words. Asked what inspires him to get up in the morning and go into the shop, his answer cuts to the chase as quickly as his toboggans run the chute. “Well, I’m the only one who makes ‘em. So I better go in.”
Toboggan fans in Maine and across America are happy he does – from the “Tampa Bay Tobogganeers” team that comes up from Florida to the curious lady in California who called to order a Dave Reed original. When Dave Nazaroff asked about the little issue of needing snow to truly enjoy the experience, she quickly clarified: “I’m going to hang it on my wall.”
There is definitely that – the heirloom quality of Camden Toboggans. Using native ash wood and the best Maine-based materials, Camden Toboggans are built to last generations. As family heirlooms go, however, these can travel 150 yards in the Snow Bowl chute in nine seconds. Not many armoires or chests-of-drawers can do that.
And just for fun, let’s say Hollywood did come calling someday. Is there an actor Dave Nazaroff would suggest for the role of Dave Reed? “I don’t know,” he said. “But it would take a lot of makeup.”
When the sun rises over the ocean to light the scene for this year’s National Championships, someone’s sure to ask, “Is this heaven?” At which point we cut to Dave Reed who answers, “Nah. Maine.”
© 2020 Maine Office of Tourism