Engineers Calgary-bound on concrete toboggan

Twenty of Concordia’s engineering students are preparing to slide over to the University of Calgary to participate in the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race (GNCTR) on Feb. 2.

The GNCTR is an annual event that aims to challenge the creativity, resourcefulness, and practical skills of engineering students nationwide. Participants must design and construct a toboggan with a steel frame and a concrete base. The toboggan must meet a variety of safety specifications: it must weigh less than 300 pounds, be fitted with a roll bar in case it tips and have a breaking system.

The event itself consists of two phases: a technical exhibition and the race itself. Before the race, teams are required to submit a technical report outlining the design of the toboggan, after which the entry is reviewed for safety measures. Once the toboggan is approved, its concrete base is waxed and it is raced down a hill with five passengers, usually traveling at 50 km/h.

Concordia’s team has been working since early September designing the toboggan, constructing the steel frame and mixing and molding concrete.

Alicia Gallagher, a third-year Civil Engineering major, is involved in the planning and organization of the project.

“I am a person who pays attention to detail so I had a lot of fun working on it,” she said. This is Gallagher’s second year participating in the event.

“We have modified the design since last year,” she said. “Last year we had skis but this year we have a flat base. Also last year’s sled was more enclosed and looked like a bobsled and this year it is more open. Since weight is a big part of the competition having an open structure for the top helped a lot.”

Gallagher was also involved in raising money for the event. “The biggest challenge was finding the money. It takes a lot because we need materials from companies and transportation for the toboggan that has to be shipped to Calgary by truck and train.”

Lisa Pensato, a Civil Engineering major and first-time participant, was involved in the construction of the base. “My friend participated last year and suggested I give it a try. I learned a lot about time management and how to apply the things we learn in class,” she said.

“The biggest challenge was some of the actual construction. You always run into stuff you didn’t expect. After we poured the concrete we couldn’t see the bottom until a month later because it had to set. By the time we saw the base we were pressed for time and it had grooves in it that had to be fixed because smoothness is crucial to the toboggan’s speed. Little things like this don’t get taken into account and take up a lot of time to repair.”

Pensato claims she has devoted too much time to the event but does not regret it.

“Right now it’s the stressed out part of it because we have to get everything ready to go but the real fun will start once we get there. I think it will be a great opportunity to meet a lot of new people and share ideas,” she said.

This year marks the 31st anniversary of the GNCTR. The event was first proposed in the spring of 1972 by the Alberta chapter of American Concrete Institute as Canada’s alternative to the Concrete Canoe Race held annually in the United States. The event was held that winter but deemed a failure because of a low turnout. Students who participated in the first GNCTR later regrouped to revive the event and develop a clear set of rules. The competition was held the following year, was a huge success, and has continued every winter since. The event attracts teams from across Canada, Europe and the United States.


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