The University of Wisconsin posted the above photo on Facebook from circa 1911 of an epic toboggan run from Observatory Hill to Lake Mendota. According to an accompanying blog post, the run was 1200 feet long including wooden and ice segments. By 1930 it got even more sophisticated with lights and concrete.
The last time I was on an actual toboggan was at Camp Upham Woods for winter retreat with the Madison Boy Choir maybe circa 1985 . The camp (operated by the State of Wisconsin) had a six-person wooden toboggan and “enough snow” was never a problem. Looking at the UW picture, its good that they had a narrow track to guard against wipeouts. The Upham Woods run was an approximately 200-foot wooden track without sides which left lots of opportunity for jack-knifing into a glorious clouds of powder.
When I was in high school many moons ago, I and my friends used the toboggan run that was at Madison’s Hoyt Park. It was especially fun when it was made super-perilous with ice instead of wimpy snow!
I believe the City closed the run down in the late 60’s or early 70’s. I assume the City did this because the City’s liability insurer, if there was one, or risk manager, if the City was then self-insured, decided the risks of injury or death to those crazy enough to use the run (including, I’m proud to say, me) were too high.
The East Side History Club’s January program last week was on Ice Houses and the ice-harvesting industry in Madison. An attendee brought a great photo ca. 1950 of the toboggan and ski jumps that the city of Madison would erect in the winter at “Ice House Hill” — the sledding hill at Olbrich Park. Watch for it coming soon to the East Side History Club’s blog, http://eastsidehistory.wordpress.com.