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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The Great La Crosse Toboggan Run of 1885


Winter has stormed in rudely this year. Here in Madison, our lakes froze over weeks earlier than in years past. And this weekend's forecast calls for fog, rain, sleet, snow, and sub-zero wind chills. So while you recover from shoveling or freezing (or both), here's a story about some hardy guys in La Crosse who made the most out of the terrible winter of 1885-86.

So much snow fell in La Crosse that winter that a group of friends pooled their extra cash, formed a toboggan club, and built a 25-foot wide run into a marsh by the river. It was three stories tall and illuminated by those new-fangled electric lights, so it could be enjoyed at night. They had no ski lifts, polypropylene socks, or Gore-Tex mittens, but the whole town turned out to plunge down the home-made hillside.

All winter long, local residents used it by the thousands. Private parties rented specific runs on it and sometimes stayed until midnight. One of its founders recalled that, "often, when members of the club closed the place for the night and walked to the Cameron House to get a lunch before going home, we found the thermometer registering from 25 to 32 below zero."

The club charged for access but lost money on it, anyway, and the experiment was not repeated the next winter. You can see the members of the La Crosse Toboggan Club of 1885-86 here, and view more recent pictures of tobogganing at Wisconsin Historical Images.


:: Posted in on December 18, 2013
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