By Jonathon Brodie/London Community News
A team of about 50 engineering students at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) have taken the concept of the simple toboggan and turned into a complex, downhill five-man sled.
The students unveiled their toboggan recently in preparation for the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race starting Feb. 8 in Calgary, where about 20 other schools will submit homemade sleds.
UWO has competed in the national competition over the last eight years, usually coming in just under the top 10 mark, but the London students are hoping to leave their challengers on ice this time around.
With two skis, a carbon steel skeleton and weighing less than 300-pounds, the toboggan may not look like much, but took the students almost eight months to complete the project.
“It is painstaking,” said Brad Coutu, captain of the UWO team. “You have these times where you come to problems and you get stressed out, but it’s all part of the engineering process.”
The key to this year’s victory might be in the concrete skis—the cement specially made out of fly ash, crate water and latex paint—with a Plexiglas bottom for speed. The cement was poured around hallow metal ducts and after hardened, a reinforcement bar was added to help reduce small impacts on the toboggan.
“Essentially everything we’ve done has been from scratch. We’ve done a ski design in the past, but never with post-tension,” said Rob Volcko, concrete leader for the team, taking pride in his work with everything being done in-house at UWO. “In terms of winning the concrete award, I think we’re in good shape. As far the race skis, we’ll have to wax them and give it a go on race day.”
Teams are judged for top speed, best run, most improved team, best new team, best braking system, best concrete mix and the coveted best overall entry. Extra prizes are also handed out for various best spirit awards, with teams choosing a theme to go along with their toboggan.
This year UWO decided on a birthday bonanza, getting the crowd involved around them with activities like ring toss and face painting.
The real though, will always be the tobogganing.
“I definitely loved tobogganing when I was a kid and definitely a GT Snow Racer fan,” Coutu said. “That’s kind of where we took our design for this year. I’d say this is the adult version of tobogganing.”