PCL Hits the Toboggan Hill with the Next Generation of Engineers

Hundreds of university students had a single goal in mind: pile themselves into a 300-pound sled they built with a few friends and race it down a ski hill faster than any of the other teams trying to do the same. This is the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race (GNCTR).


This year’s race was held in Edmonton, Alberta, from January 30 to February 3 and marked the 45th edition of Canada’s largest student-engineering competition. PCL was proud to hop in for the ride as a title sponsor for the sixth consecutive year.  

“GNCTR is one of the key avenues through which we engage with university students and to share our career opportunities with them,” says Nadia Camphor, HR specialist. “We are proud to support GNCTR and its competitors as they develop the skills and mindset that we try to foster in our employees: teamwork, creativity, safety, and passion.”

The GNCTR concept is simple: design and build a toboggan for five riders where the only surfaces that touch the snow (at least, if you do it right) are made of concrete. But before any of the 450 students in attendance gives in to gravity—they need to make sure they can get to the bottom safely. There are rules to this competition besides just go fast: sleds need steering and braking systems, a superstructure that can withstand crashes at up to 65 km/h, and weigh under 300 pounds.

“If you want to be a leader in this industry, you must keep people safe,” says Mitch Soetaert, operations manager and six-time safety judge. “Each year, we work with the organizing committees to add rules that guarantee the safety of the riders. PCL also supplies technical judges, who are charged with scoring the teams based on the engineering problem solving that went into their sled designs, and presents the PCL Excellence in Safety Award at the closing ceremony.”

Instilling the virtues of safety in the next generation of engineers is just one of the reasons PCL is involved with the GNCTR. It’s also a terrific opportunity to support the dedication and hard work of the students. In addition to serving as a title sponsor, many PCL offices sponsor their local university or college teams.

“It’s fantastic to play a role in developing these students’ technical and soft skills before they enter the workforce.” said Scott Klinger, project coordinator, technical judge, and former GNCTR competitor and organizer. “They are challenged to work as a team, and if they have a problem, they need to solve it collectively. That’s something they can take away and use in their careers.” ​​​​​​

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