Spurred by the first snowfalls of winter, University of Wisconsin students emerge by the dozen from the crusty confines of their dorm rooms, scurry to the nearest dining hall, kidnap a lunch tray and fling themselves down Observatory Hill.

Unbeknownst to them, they are brave winter warriors, engaging in a UW tradition with roots extending more than a century back.

The brain-child of the long-gone UW Toboggan Club, Observatory Hill once boasted a 600-foot toboggan chute. According to the UW Archives, this leviathan of a slide flung students out onto the frozen waters of Lake Mendota from 1886 to 1939 — requiring a 600-foot path to slow down these speedy scholars.

UW Digital Collection

Blessed with a monetary gift from the Class of 1933, the toboggan slide saw a handsome overhaul, outfitting the undergrad-flinger with safety gates, automatic toboggan release and water pipes for icing. Students were charged a dime a slide, a seemingly minimal charge for the chance to hurtle down Observatory at 60 plus mph.


UW Digital Collection

But true to style, the construction of Elizabeth Waters Hall in the late 1930s brought an end to the fun, requiring the toboggan run’s removal for more building space.

Photo By Nolan Ferlic

So remember, no matter the petty speeds you achieve on your fiberglass abomination of a sled, the students of yesteryear most definitely did it better.

Photo by Nolan Ferlic
Nolan Ferlic/The Badger Herald