Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race 2014

University of Alberta dominates the unusual Engineering student event.

Students having a little fun with the tobbogan.

This past weekend marked the 2014 Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race (GNCTR 2014) hosted this year by Western University (London, Canada). The race marks the northerners’ answer to the popular ASCE Concrete Canoe Competition seen in warmer climates. An annual occurrence for over 4 decades, GNCTR however, is hardly a new tradition.

This year, representative teams from 21 Universities competed to see who could make the fastest, safest, and easiest to control toboggan made out of the non-traditional toboggan material.

Having been the past captain of Western’s team in 2010, Matt Johnson, VP Communications at GNCTR, is no stranger to the event. “Teams typically start work designing the toboggan in early September until about December,” said Johnson. “From then on, focus begins on a project management project ensuring the toboggans are constructed and presented well for the event.”

In their designs, students can use various tools at their disposal including CAD and FEA simulation software. “We are seeing more multidisciplinary teams,” comments Johnson. “From mechanical engineers to design the steering and braking systems to simulation experts to perform roll cage safety analysis and CFD aerodynamic analysis.”

Student performs a technical presentation.

As students are not only judged on performance, but also on the design process, design software can go a long way to help improve their presentations. However, students can also use various concrete mixing techniques and additives to help boost their performance and designs.

“There is a push from some faculty to use their research into building materials. During my time as captain, we used glass fiber reinforcement. But we had seen 3 teams use bamboo for reinforcement this year. It’s a positive trend to see the  use of recycled materials,” adds Johnson.

Students submit a technical report 2 weeks before they hit the slopes. The reports are looked over by industry sponsors and safety judges as part of their assessment.

“With a 300lbs max weight toboggan, safety is very important. A roll bar capable of protecting 4 riders in the event of an 80km/h (50 mph) crash is mandatory. The day before the race toboggans are weighed and inspected by safety judges, a team comprised of industry professionals. Teams may be asked to make minor modifications as needed. The judges also assess the toboggans prior to each run of individual racing to ensure safety during head-to-head racing,” ensures Johnson. 

University of Alberta’s team cleaned house. 

Lawrence Tech University team and their Tobbogan.

In this year’s competition, the University of Alberta dominated the competition winning 11 out of 20 technical awards. The fastest sleigh came from the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus.

However, the Cinderella team of the year was Lawrence Tech University. They are the first American team to participate in the event in the past 10 years. Judges awarded the school for their technical/performance in steering. The team also won an award for the most spectacular run. Hopefully, more American Universities will see this success as a sign to join in on the fun.

Written by

Shawn Wasserman

For over 10 years, Shawn Wasserman has informed, inspired and engaged the engineering community through online content. As a senior writer at WTWH media, he produces branded content to help engineers streamline their operations via new tools, technologies and software. While a senior editor at, Shawn wrote stories about CAE, simulation, PLM, CAD, IoT, AI and more. During his time as the blog manager at Ansys, Shawn produced content featuring stories, tips, tricks and interesting use cases for CAE technologies. Shawn holds a master’s degree in Bioengineering from the University of Guelph and an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Waterloo.