Friday, January 21, 2005

Apple #28: Toboggans


I went to my home town recently, and a snowy hill I passed reminded me that I once sled down it on a toboggan when I was a kid with about five other kids, and we almost wound up in the lake at the bottom of the hill. I thought about that word toboggan and then I wondered where they came from.

  • Toboggans were pulled by hand or by teams of dogs, and were used to haul cargo across frozen, snow-covered ground. They were also used to pull children too young to walk far in cold weather.
  • The word is attributed to the Micmac tribe, some of whom still live in northeast Canada. They made a lot of things out of birch bark, and they hunted big animals like elk, moose, bear, and caribou.
  • Numerous other northern tribes are known to have used toboggans, including the Eskimos, or Inuit. In the Innu language, the word for "automobile" is utapan, which also means "toboggan."
  • Since toboggans have to glide over frozen, uneven ground, they must be flexible. Metal will snap if bent or jarred, and plastics can also get distorted and may be weakened by UV light. For its flexibility even in cold temperatures, wood remains the preferred material for toboggans.
  • Steering a toboggan is difficult, since it was never originally intended to be ridden, but hauled. Shifting one's weight or trailing one's feet are the only ways to steer or stop a toboggan.
  • In the sport of tobogganing, special iced chutes are constructed so that steering is eliminated. The toboggan, therefore, is the forerunner of the bobsled and the luge. Also, the first snowmobile was a motorized toboggan.

Only three more days to submit your requests!

Northern Toboggan & Sled's
History page
Compact Oxford English Dictionary,
toboggan entry
Minnesota State University EMuseum, North American Cultures,
Utapanasku - the
Innu toboggan
Columbia Encyclopedia, entry on

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