Lure of the North's Dave Marrone on NTCo Wooden Toboggans

"I wound my way along a tight, twisted portage trail nearing the tail end of a week-long snowshoe adventure.  The trail was familiar – being in the public land surrounding my wilderness property, I had travelled it many times before.  But my toboggan was behaving differently this time. The all-wood toboggan from Northern Toboggan Co. had a responsiveness that pleasantly surprised me.  The stiffness in the heavy Red Oak construction meant that the entire toboggan reacted to a turning tug on the hood. On a tight corner I could reach back, grab the front curl of the toboggan and swivel the entire length with a big pull. 

As I continued along the portage trail it began to descend off the rocky outcrop of the Canadian Shield, and down to the next lake.  The steep hillside wasn't holding as much snow as the forested sections of the trail and sharp rocks protruded through the light snow-cover of early January.  I controlled the descent of the toboggan as well as I could and tried to divert it around the worst offenders. Once I had safely finished the descent and was back on the frozen lake surface, I flipped the toboggan to assess the damage.  I was dismayed to examine the marks on my new toboggan – the gouges ran deep in places. This is the reality of all toboggan travel undertaken over the course of the entire winter. If you restrict yourself to only travelling in the deep snows of mid-winter, or modifying trips when conditions are less than ideal, then you can typically protect your toboggan from the rigours of a rock strewn trail.  But if you want to extend your winter hauling season in both directions and explore the boundaries at the edges of winter, then sooner or later you'll encounter similarly studded trails to abuse your snowshoes, moccasins and toboggans. Upon closer examination I was happy to realize that what had looked like deep gouges had mostly just penetrated the layers of paraffin wax and pine tar that the toboggan base had been covered with.  The oak boards themselves had mostly resisted damage from the rocks. At 7/8” thick, I realized it would take decades of similar abuse to come anywhere close to wearing through the boards. A fresh application of paraffin wax, smoothed with a hot iron at home, or a steel mug full of hot water on the trail, would restore the base back to a perfectly smooth finish. 

The stiffer body of a wood toboggan has other advantages as well.  At camp I would stand the toboggan up against a tree, as I had seen others do with their wood toboggans.  The sun would warm the base, melting off any slush or frost from the day's travels, leaving it ready to go for the next morning. When we caught fresh game on the trail, the wood toboggan flipped over and placed on a couple of wannigans made an exceptional prep table to work outside on a sunny afternoon at a sheltered campsite.  

When I was first given the opportunity to add a wooden toboggan to our fleet of over a dozen high-density polyethylene toboggans I was intrigued, but uncertain.  I was comfortable with my familiarity with the performance of HDPE toboggans. I wasn't sure if a wood toboggan would require too much maintenance in a commercial fleet.  Would it be able to keep up with the lighter toboggans? And would its stiffness be a hindrance in undulating terrain? After a full season of taking it on week-long trips with adults and teenagers alike, I can safely say my worries were unfounded.  Our new wooden toboggan has found a special niche within our collection. It is beautiful; it is natural and traditional; it is a conversation starter and a teaching point to our students about traditional winter travel. It is a proven workhorse that will join us on the winter trail for many years to come!"

–Dave Marrone, Lure of the North

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