On February 7, 2024, UBC Okanagan’s Concrete Toboggan Club set out from Kelowna and traveled to St. John’s, Newfoundland, in order to participate in the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race, one of Canada’s oldest and most well-respected engineering competitions. This year, the competition celebrated its 50th anniversary in Newfoundland, and UBCO’s Concrete Toboggan Club celebrated its first victory in  twelve years of competing. 

I had the opportunity to sit down with Katie Van Rooyen, a fifth-year engineering student at UBCO, who assumed the roles of club president and team captain of the Concrete Toboggan Club this year. Van Rooyen’s experience with the club began in her freshman year, sparked by the discovery of it at the fall Expo event. Our conversation delved into the operations of the club itself and the team’s experience competing in this unique event.  

Founded 12 years ago, the Concrete Toboggan Club has been a steadfast participant in the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race. The club meets together weekly, with sub-teams specializing in mechanics, concrete construction, and executive management. These sub-teams collaboratively design the toboggan, which must be designed and constructed from scratch each year. 

The competition mandates that each toboggan must have concrete on all running surfaces — usually a set of four concrete skis — and it must feature a roll cage, a mechanical steering and braking system, and be able to fit five team members inside. Teams are judged on the design of their toboggan and a written report but, the majority of points hinge on their performance during the downhill races. 

This year, 17 teams from across Canada met at Clarenville’s White Hills ski resort for the races. The competition then unfolded in two stages. First, a timed solo run where teams raced down the hill, showcasing their steering and braking mechanisms. Then, the “drag race” tournament occurred, where teams took turns racing each other down the hill. The UBCO team emerged victorious, claiming the top spot overall in the written report and timed race portion of the competition and placing second in the drag race tournament. 

Van Rooyen emphasized the camaraderie within this year’s team, attributing the close-knit bond to many members who have previously competed together in 2023. Beyond the competition, the experience as a whole brought the team together, with time set aside for students to explore St. John’s as well as to connect with other students from universities across the country. 

To further foster this kind of team bond, each year, teams select a theme for their toboggan. UBCO’s team decided on Pixar’s Cars, fashioning their toboggan in the likeness of the character Tow Mater — even going so far as designing the toboggan so that it appeared as if it were reversing down the hill. Van Rooyen highlighted how these themes boost teams’ enthusiasm for the event, which was made evident by their toboggan designs and spirited team chants. 

Summing up the experience, the club’s president and team captain described it as “fantastic” and “amazing for the team.” While she will be unable to participate in next year's event after her graduation this term, she expressed her confidence in the team’s future prospects and the excitement among members to defend their new title. Importantly, she notes that the Concrete Toboggan Club is open to students of all backgrounds and is not limited only to engineering majors, extending an invitation to prospective members for the upcoming year. 

For more information or inquiries, please feel free to contact the Concrete Toboggan Club at gnctr.okanagan@gmail.com or check out their Instagram page @Okanagan.GNCTR