Sledding to the Finish Line

Posted on Wednesday, February 7th, 2024

Written by Kylie Riches

Adele Pinsonneault smiling at camera on SSC second floor.

A team of University of Guelph (U of G) engineering students are headed to St. John’s, Newfoundland for a truly Canadian competition: the Great North Concrete Toboggan Race (GNCTR). Adele Pinsonneault, third-year Biomedical Engineering student, is the 2024 co-captain for U of G. Held this year from February 7-11, GNCTR is an annual event that brings together universities across Canada to demonstrate their technical and creative ability to design, build and race concrete toboggans.

Pinsonneault describes the layout of their toboggan as a small bobsled in which they will race down a ski hill, aiming to beat the other competing universities. The sled includes five seats, all enclosed by a steel roll cage, with the concrete portion being the four base skis on each corner. The whole process includes design and construction such as cutting and welding metal, fabricating the roll cage, implementing safety features such as snow fences, and painting the sled to fit their theme. Each toboggan must also include braking and steering mechanisms.

Pinsonneault saw it as a valuable opportunity to pick up new design and building skills while also enjoying the team collegiality.

“I had never really heard of anything quite like the GNCTR, and I figured this would be a great opportunity to apply the knowledge that I was learning in class in a new, innovative and creative way”, she says.

“It was also enticing that there were not really any prerequisites for joining the club. If you were interested, they would teach you the skills to be on the team. I never really had any shop skills, but now I know how to make concrete mixes and cut metals! A lot of our members are learning how to weld this year too.”

Person welding metal with a mask on.

The race preparation is a year-round task, which begins in the summer with the design phase. They use software like SOLIDWORKS for safety analysis and toboggan modeling. When the team of 30 returns to campus in September, they start to physically build and assemble their design. Within the main U of G team, there are several sub-teams, dedicated to metalwork, concrete mixing, and theme design/ execution.

This year, the team has decided to go with ‘Avatar: The Last Boggbender’ as their theme. They have painted their toboggan to resemble this hit animated series and will dress up as characters from it during the opening ceremonies.

Two team members working on toboggan, one smiling at camera with glasses on

The four-day event moves quickly with opening ceremonies, competitor interactions, cultural/ community exploration and technical exhibitions. Rounding out the weekend will be the highly-anticipated races between Canada-wide university teams.

First held in 1974, the GNTCR competition celebrates its 50th year in 2024, and is described on its website as Canada’s longest-running engineering student competition. A total of 16 university teams will compete this year.

The GNCTR community is always looking for new members, and Pinsonneault stresses the openness the team shows to new members. She encourages anyone who wants to join for future competition years to reach out to or @gnctrguelph on Instagram. They will also be at the Winter Club Fair on February 13th in the Engineering Atrium.

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