Going downhill fast the goal of SAIT concrete toboggan builders

A small crew of SAIT students has been working for months designing a unique concrete toboggan that will be used in a national engineering competition.

The Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race hits the hill at Big Rock Ski Resort in Kelowna, B.C. this year.

And Colin France, a mechanical engineering (MET) student at SAIT Polytechnic, can hardly wait.

The event is his chance to demonstrate the school’s engineering capabilities.

“I’m really looking forward to showing off what we can do,” France said in an interview.

The team has been working on the project since last March, shortly after last year’s competition ended.

The annual event, which runs this year from Jan. 21 to Jan. 25, is designed to challenge the creativity of engineering students across Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

Teams are prohibited from using frames or designs they employed from previous years, which encourages participants to innovate every year.

“There are only a few polytechnics racing this year and 17 teams have been entered” says France.

“A lot of these teams are universities with racers who have learned a lot through previous competitions. Using all the classes we take at SAIT, which are extremely relevant to this competition, our goal is to place extremely high.”

France explains that the toboggan has to meet some pretty strict design conditions.

The sled must be built with a metal frame and a rigid structure, weigh less than 300 pounds and have room for five passengers.

On top of that, the toboggan must also have working steering and braking systems and be fitted with a roll cage to protect its riders.

It’s not just the speed, the steering, or the braking of the toboggan that are scored. – Colin France

France says that in addition to the support from the department and the instructors, the team has also relied on YouTube as a resource for research.

“We don’t know how other teams did in previous years, so we don’t know what worked and what didn’t” he says.

“We’re relegated to watching YouTube videos to determine which systems work. From there, we started research and came up with ideas that were discussed over the summer by the MET team.”

Last year, SAIT placed 11th overall and was scored over numerous categories such as top speed, best run, braking, and aesthetics.

“It’s not just the speed, the steering, or the braking of the toboggan that are scored,” France explained.

“There are also technical reports, spirit competitions, and extra points for being good ambassadors of the institution being represented. This year, the intention is to win.”

It is tradition for teams in the competition to design their sled based on a theme and to accompany it with matching costumes that count toward the spirit award.

For this year’s competition, France and the team chose Transformers as its theme. The toboggan has been painted with appropriate colours, costumes have been created for the racers, and a shroud has been made to place over the sled to model it after Optimus Prime, a Transformers character.

The name of the sled? “Toboggumus Prime,” of course.

When the teams are not racing, they will have a chance to enjoy some of the activities provided at Big White, such as snowboarding and skiing.

France and the team are thankful for the generous support of its instructors and backing from the academic chair of MET.

“The staff at ARIS is phenomenal and have been extremely helpful with all of our ideas.”

To check the results of the competition, visit the competition’s official website

About Matthew Berard 2 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Matthew Berard is working as a reporter for The Press during the 2014-2015 academic year.