Sonny Samuelson Bobsled Race is a carnival tradition

Bobsled team ready to knock out competition

Jon Marion is talking smack at all the other bobsled racers out there.

The owner of the Eager Beaver sled says the competition was tight during last year’s Sonny Samuelson Bobsled Race and with Rossland Winter Carnival weekend approaching, he’s put out a warning.

“To all the other teams: we’re gunning for you and we’re going to take it this year – the Beaver will be on top!”

The Beaver had an eager start in 2003 when Marion, a respiratory therapist from Rossland, tried his hand at mechanics. The fire-engine red conventional sled with a stuffed beaver attached to the handle bars was disqualified from the competition that year when pre-race judges deemed it unsafe to take the course that runs six blocks down Rossland’s steepest city street.

Marion and neighbour Damon Walton were not going to let a little trial and error ruin their pursuit for bobsled domination. Instead, the friends enlisted Mike Pistak in 2004 to help build up the dream into a solid contender. And the sled has evolved with steady hands since.

Over the decade the Beaver has run the course, it has seen many new teammates, including comedian Rick Mercer warming the seat in 2010, and Rossland Mayor Kathy Moore last year. The mayor is no longer hitching a ride this year, as council has built their own challenger.

“The bobsled is the Pipe Dream because it was meant to be a sewer pipe but of course, if it crashes then it’s going to be the Byelection because there’s four of us on it,” she laughed.

Moore admits jumping on a sled that’s never competed is a different feeling than joining an experienced crew on a veteran ride.

The Beaver’s record to the finish line is about 45 seconds, just above 70 kilometers per hour to date.

Marion’s goal this year is to crack the 80-85 km threshold in 40 seconds and take the sled to the podium.

The brakeman entrusts in driver Darren Rossi (my husband and general loose cannon) to steer his pride to the finish line.

In second position, squeezed in the middle of the meat, Marion said he likes to work the independent braking to ski steer if “things go wrong.”

“To me it’s like a race car,” he said. “They’re all homemade bobsleds, and we try not to share our technology with any of our competitors.”

“Homemade” reaches another caliber when you look at Matt Titheridge’s creations that grace the track.

Known locally as “Moustache Matt,” Titheridge runs a welding and fabricating shop that specializes in CNC plasma. He started on the classic Hi Rise sled a decade ago, and then last year built Beyond Thunder Drunk (a side by side Mad Max style) and Hot Voltage, a shiny aluminum tub, for his wife, Chantal. His handy work ensured the couple could each sport a new sled in conjunction with the opening of his new welding business, Moustache Metalworks.

“I’m notorious for being the guy who has to run into Lyle Simm’s shop in the middle of the race to weld somebody’s handlebars back on,” he said.

“We don’t build or design sleds for other people, but we are happy to provide them with the materials they need to keep them safe.”

He reinforced the frame of Marion’s Beaver this year to hold the last two riders on more securely and extended the brakes to make them more effective.

You’d have to be crazy not to build and ride a sled to victory, according to Titheridge.

“Where else do you get to build your own contraption and then race it down the steepest street in town?” he asks. “If you’ve ever loved Lego and wanted to fly the space ship you made out of Lego, well this is your chance.”

After a good hearty pancake breakfast, spectators can roll themselves over to Spokane Street to take in the bobsled race that comes screaming down the hill at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

There are usually over 25 teams looking to take top speed, which has been carried for two years by Darrin Albo’s sled, Rossland’s Alboholics, which hit 75 kph last year. An award presentation will follow at 1:30 p.m. at the Olaus Ice Palace.

This year’s Winter Carnival schedule is brimming with new events. For a full weekend low down, visit rosslandwintercarnival.com.

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