Tobogganing is a winter staple. You’ve done it in the backyard, on that steep neighbourhood hill, or even on a groomed mountain run. But here’s the thing: You usually don't plan on tobogganing. That blizzard comes like a messy thief in the night and coats the entire land in that freezing sky confetti we call snow. And while you maybe had the foresight to stock up on enough food and beer to survive the weekend, you likely did not buy a toboggan. You probably didn't even realize you'd want a toboggan. But when the snow comes, you do want one. You want one bad.
Enter the homemade toboggan. We’ve all been hungry for a thrill and MacGyvered our way to a bush league bobsled. This tried-and-true device takes many forms: cookie trays, inner tubes, pizza boxes, and garbage bags. But which homemade toboggan works best?
We are three dudes who want to find out. Our challenge is simple: use homewares to build different toboggans. Test them, collect learnings, and improve our designs. We hope to find the fastest, sturdiest, and coolest 'boggan that anyone can make with the crap they have just collecting dust in the garage.
Let the games begin.
Please pick three words and three emojis to describe yourself.
Tom: Opinionated. Thrill junkie. Flexible.
James: Hungry. Calculating. Texas.
Jeff: Adventurous. Charming. (I can't think of a third one.)
Why does a pizza box make a decent toboggan? Why doesn't a blanket? Before we started the build, we needed to understand how best to approach this challenge. After some ~sciencey reading~, we found the answer: A toboggan must convert gravitational potential energy into kinetic energy of motion. What does that mean? It means FRICTION is bad. So first and foremost, toboggans must be extremely slick. That's what makes a good 'boggan good and a bad 'boggan bad. Seems easy enough.
After some deliberation, we chose three objects from around the house that seemed slippery enough to serve as a solid 'boggan base. We decided to build a prototype on each base using other objects found in the same room. So our three prototypes would go as follows:
- Kitchen prototype — pizza tray base.
- Bedroom prototype — inflatable mattress base.
- Garage prototype — old skis base.
Easy enough! Tom, being the thrill-seeker of the group, immediately volunteered to be the test pilot for all of our toboggans. Jeff and I decided this was fine. Then it was time to get down to business.
We started our build with the kitchen prototype.
This prototype showed a lot of promise early on, as the trays were slippery as hell. One of them slid right through my fingers and landed on my toes.
- Pizza trays
- Trash can
- Roasting pan
First, we connected our pizza trays with duct tape. Then we cut a trash can in half and drilled the base into the wooden spine of our 'boggan. We added some more weight with 2x4s and then used a pair of bungie cords to affix the lid of a roasting pan to the back, giving us a handle we could use to haul the thing around.
Lastly, we used the discarded section of trash can to create a tall back for the rider. One toboggan down. Every good ship deserves a name, and the same is true of toboggans.
We thereby christened this sled Pizza Boy.
Tom was amped. He wanted to test it out immediately and demanded we take glamour shots. This one seemed like it was going to work, and Tom said it was "hella comfortable."
Next, we built the garage prototype.
This one was obviously going to work because the base was made of skis. Skis are like mankind's engineering answer to the question, How can we quickly get down a field of snow?
- Old skis
- Spare shelves
- Milk crate
- Lawn chair
We started by removing the bindings, drilling holes in the shelves, and bolting the shelves back onto the skis. (Pro tip: The holes the bindings leave are the perfect place to anchor your DIY chassis. You can even use the same screws, which we did! Technically, you could then remove the 'boggan, put your bindings back on, and ski on these bad boys.) Lastly, we tied on the milk crate and bungied the lawn chair into place on top of it.
I'm going to be honest: We kind of phoned this one in. We basically tied a lawn chair to a pair of skis. But I've never been one to put forth more effort than necessary. My working theory was that the skis were going to do most of the work for us.
We thereby christened this sled Garage Sail.
The design principle at work here is something I call "calculated half-assery."
Last came the bedroom prototype with the inflatable mattress base.
I immediately thought this toboggan would bomb. The underside of the mattress was pretty smooth, but it just didn't seem heavy enough. Jeff and I were skeptical from the get-go, but Tom claimed this was going to be "funny as hell," so we agreed to give it a try. I think he really just wanted to ride something Superman-style with his GoPro...
- Inflatable mattress
- Sleeping bag
- Pillow and stuffed duck
Building this toboggan presented a challenge because the components were so delicate. Nails were not going to do the trick. We decided to use a crank tie-down to strap everything together. The strap also functioned as a seatbelt for Tom when it came time to give 'er a ride.
We thereby christened this toboggan The Bed Head Sled.
We organized a test run of our toboggans on a nearby hill. This was not the big mamma jamma hill, mind you. This was the prelim. The molehill. The qualifying round.
Garage Sail Test Run
Nothing to see here, folks. Just a really exceptional sled that was probably definitely going to win this competition. No surprise, the sled ran really well on its ski base. The high centre of gravity was not the best, however; the other two sleds were much lower to the ground. Would this be enough to make up for the inferior bases?
The Bed Head Sled Test Run
We were shocked! Bed Head worked really well. It slipped, it slid, and it glided over the snow like a beautiful cloud. Tom was right all along. This sled came to COMPETE, people. I wasn't so sure Garage Sail was our number-one seed anymore.
Pizza Boy Test Run
The garbage can must have overpowered the pizza pans in spirit because Pizza Boy turned out to be a piece-of-garbage toboggan. I am ashamed I thought this was going to work. The sled did not run quickly, and it could hardly stay upright.
On our last run, the sled disintegrated on the slope. Tom endured a really hard fall. We rushed to his side and checked him for signs of head trauma, but he was totally fine.
We rushed back to the lab armed with learnings from the trail runs. We realized The Bed Head Sled would run even faster if we lost the strap holding it together. Jeff protested, saying the strap was necessary for Tom's safety — but Tom was brave as always.
We reinforced Garage Sail with more screws so that the structure was more secure. The sled was picking up some serious kph on this run, and that would only increase on the big hill. The frame had to withstand these high speeds.
But what to do with Pizza Boy aka Trash Boy aka The Great Failure? We decided to scrap the concept entirely. Tom was adamant about this. He said there were only two things he could not abide: "weakness and mayonnaise." We stuffed Pizza Boy in the garbage can that used to be part of his own body, collapsing him into himself like a pathetic Transformer. A fitting end for such a disgraceful sled.
It was time to build a replacement. We decided to test a toboggan with an ironing board base. This would be a laundry room prototype.
- Ironing board
- Laundry basket
- Plastic sheet
We had no time to field-test this final prototype, but we were not concerned. The ironing board was heavy, the centre of gravity was low, and the plastic sheet was slick. This was the most similar to a conventional toboggan. In fact, this could be our best 'boggan yet.
Tom wanted to name the sled Rosebud, but Jeff said that was too stupid and random. After some deliberation, we settled on the final title: Laundry Day, which rose phoenix-like in the dead Pizza Boy's place.
We thereby christened this toboggan Laundry Day.
We found an epic hill to serve as our proving grounds. This was the day of reckoning for the 'boggans. The plan was simple: run each toboggan and track its speed, stability, and style. Each category would be rated out of five possible points. The judges were us because this wasn't a democracy; it was a 'bogganarchy.
May the best 'boggan win.
THE BED HEAD SLED
We started off with our contender, The Bed Head Sled. He ran well. Almost too well. The speed was there. This baby didn't have a turbo, but the factory options were more than enough. However, one bump would send you flying. Not only was the rider unsecured, the sled also tended to drift sideways, and there wasn't much you could do about it. Tom said he was leaning hard, but it wasn't pulling. None of that matters, however, if you're all about looks.
Tom looked really #casual while riding this guy — in a good way. It was like a cool car that wasn't a "cool car." Effortless steeze. This sled had it and scored big in the style category.
- SPEED: (4)
- STABILITY: (3)
- STYLE: (5)
Very quickly, it looked like the phoenix that rose from Pizza Boy's ashes was even more garbage than its predecessor. Womp womp. What a letdown. Laundry Day moved in slow motion. We should have just strapped Tom to my pet box turtle and let him find his way down the slope. This was honestly baffling though. The sled was heavy and low to the ground, and the plastic sheet was slick. Why didn't it go fast? We had no idea. But we did know that this sucker was secure. The friggin' thing was so stable that it wouldn't even move when pushed. Everest climbers should haul this bad boy up behind 'em so they have a safe place to sleep at night. It also got style points because Tom went down rodeo (aka backward).
As a toboggan, however, it sucked. At least Laundry Day didn't fall apart during the test run, though! (Note: It also didn't come apart later when our team tried to break it with a sledge.)
- SPEED: (1)
- STABILITY: (5)
- STYLE: (2)
The speed was extreme. Perhaps too extreme. Let's not beat around the bush: This was the baddest 'boggan in the bunch. This sucker went. But while the chair was fun to ride, the stability was concerning. It was a bit like riding high above traffic in a big truck — except this big truck was riding on skateboard wheels. Not all was well down below. And this was even after we bolted the thing together for more stability. Considering how fast it moved, this was a sled not to be underestimated.
Style was pretty standard. The lawn chair chassis allowed for some cheeky poses midride.
- SPEED: (5)
- STABILITY: (2)
- STYLE: (3)
This adventure was beset by design setbacks, unseasonal meteorological forces, and Tom's sassy mouth. Ultimately, we overcame friction and prevailed. And the biggest surprise was that The Bed Head Sled came out with the crown! It scored 12 total points out of 15, squeezing past Garage Sail at 10 and Laundry Day with a measly eight. The moral of the story is clear: Jump headfirst into life, and you're sure to succeed. And also, you don't have to get out of bed to win at life.
At the end of the day, we finished strong with the ice-cold taste of victory — which tasted, oddly enough, like beer.
All photos Lennon © BuzzFeed 2016