By Richard Irwin
The handmade bobsled barreled down the icy city street, zooming past an ambulance and police car sitting at an intersection. Residents rushed out into the street to see if the brave young men crashed on the busy boulevard below.
Welcome to the Sammy Samuelson Bobsled Race, one of the most popular events at the Rossland Winter Carnival in British Columbia. The quaint old mining town bills itself as Canada’s oldest winter carnival.
They say a Norwegian miner by the name of Olaus Jeldness started it all back in 1897. They insist Olaus invited friends to the top of nearby Red Mountain for an infamous “tea party.” Afterwards, the pioneer strapped long wooden sticks to their feet and sent them barreling down the hill. He called them “skis,” and that’s how the sport got its start in Canada.
Well, Olaus would be proud to know that neighbors are still barreling down the streets of Rossland — albeit in handmade bobsleds that are long on imagination and short on engineering.
These people will race anything from a old snowmobile shell to a big pink canoe. The only rule is they must carry a four-person team and must have working brakes and steering.
Though from personal observation, I would have to say their ability to stop or turn varied by a wide margin. And the crowds roared whenever the rickety craft veered off course and crashed into the snow banks lining Spokane Street.
Another concession to safety were the helmets every rider had to wear. And they say the drivers are no longer allowed to drink “tea” before the competition.
Speeds reach up to 85 kilometers per hour and are tracked with a speed gun — explaining both the ambulance and police car.
If you don’t have time to build your own bobsled, visitors can still participate in GT racing on Spokane Street. There’s no entry fee, but helmets AND waivers are required.
Or, there are cross-country team sprints on Upper Spokane Street by the ice arena. In this contest, teams of two skiers play tag on multiple laps of a fast-circuit course.
Several teams race head-to-head in elimination heats. Winners need the speed to sprint around the course, as well as endurance to race several times through the heats.
Of course, you could just do what I did. Watch the action from the sidelines while enjoying a pint of Canada’s best beer or a glass of wine.
And if you get hungry after the firefighter’s pancake breakfast, visitors can try the food fair at the Olaus Ice Palace or the borscht at the Legion on Washington Avenue.
We stopped by the grand winter carnival during a ski trip to Red Mountain last year; we had a great time, as Rossland rolls out the white carpet for thousands of visitors.
Strolling down the main street, we stopped by the roaring fire pit to talk to families warming up on the freezing northern night. The Kids Carnival offered snowmobile rides, maple taffy on snow and many games.
Spirits soared as snowboarders ripped up the rail jam on the slope next to the post office. Others enjoyed snow volleyball.
Don’t miss the 116th Carnival Parade followed by the post parade extravaganza with hot chocolate, bonfire and fireworks. The world famous Slocan Ice Sculptures are really amazing pieces of art.
Check out the fifth annual Blizzard Mountain Music Festival. A dozen of Canada’s best live acts perform on two stages at Rossland’s Winter Carnival.
The city’s finest social event, the Rotary Wine Tasting, recalls that first tea party more than a century ago. Feel free to enjoy the finest vintages our northern neighbor has to offer. And don’t worry, they won’t strap wooden sticks to your feet afterward.
The Rossland Winter Carnival runs from Jan. 24-27, 2013. For more information, see its website at www.rosslandwintercarnival.com.