April 19, 2024

Schulich students take to the slopes in a concrete toboggan

UCalgary team competes at 50th annual Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race
Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race
The University of Calgary's Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race team travelled to Newfoundland for the 2024 competition. Submitted by the team

Despite a re-routed flight, schedule delays and a technical challenge, Schulich School of Engineering students took home a plethora of awards at the 2024 Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race (GNCTR) in Newfoundland in February. The team came first in categories including People’s Choice, Concrete Design, Technical Display, and Costumes.

The race — the longest-running engineering student competition in the country — has students design and build a toboggan with concrete running surface(s), a roll cage, mechanical steering and braking, and then race their creations down a steep hill. The toboggans must weigh less than 350 pounds and hold five team members. 

Teams are judged on the reports they submit as well as the races themselves, with criteria including technical, safety and spirit — which is where the costumes come in.

“The theme and costumes are a big part of the fun,” says Abby Czaikowski, a fourth-year civil engineering student and captain of this year’s team. Every team comes up with a theme that plays off “ski” or "bogg" (for toboggan). The Schulich team went with “Bogg Story: You’ve got a friend in ski,” which lent itself to fun costumes — notable characters from the Toy Story movie, as well as its army of aliens.

The team had 28 students from all six Schulich departments — Civil, Mechanical, Chemical, Electrical, Biomedical and Software — along with one master’s student and two first-year students. They all spent months of nights and weekends designing and building the toboggan as part of the UCalgary GNCTR club.

As well as letting the competitors apply theories they learned in class, the race also helped a first-year student choose a major. Jaxon Rothlisberger chose electrical engineering after working with master’s student Parker Link, BSc (Eng)’23. 

“Jaxon chose electrical engineering because he just absolutely fell in love with all the things that Parker was showing him," says Czaikowski. "Classwork only goes so far with giving you a taste of what it's actually going to be like. So, to be able to network with the upper years and gain that hands-on experience really helps out.”

The GNCTR club also creates a community where students can “come out of their shells” and get to know each other. “That’s really important in a degree like engineering that can be very demanding and stressful at times,” says Czaikowski, who joined the club in 2022 after talking to her dad, Gary, who had been on his school team in the late 1980s. 

"This (2024) was the 50th year, and my dad competed when he went to civil engineering many, many moons ago. He was like, ‘You should join!’ So, I did. It helped me gain that sense of community back after COVID and find people who you really click with. It really enhances the university experience.”

This year’s race also enhanced team members’ abilities to adapt to unforeseen challenges.

Just 45 minutes from landing in St. John’s, the plane had to turn around for Toronto because of strong crosswinds. “We managed to catch a flight the next day and arrived in St. John's just in time for the opening ceremonies,” Czaikowski says. 

Then, a technical glitch in the first of three races meant the team didn't finish. They quickly fixed the issue and were ready for the second race, but it was cancelled because of time constraints. The team was disqualified from the third and final race because they didn't finish the first.

“Everyone handled the disappointment gracefully and enthusiastically supported the other teams,” says Czaikowski. “Despite the setbacks, the true essence of this competition lies beyond the races. It unites university students from across the country. I am incredibly proud of our team's spirit."