It can be as simple as hopping in a refrigerator box and sliding down the mountain. Or, one can go downhill on an elaborately-crafted vessel in full costume.
When it comes to the Cardboard Derby, the possibilities are virtually endless, as long as the contestants stay within the parameters of using only cardboard, duct tape, string and paint to construct their craft – and pony up a modest $10 entry fee.
After a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cardboard Derby will return to Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort for its 18th edition on Saturday, March 26.
“Two years ago we had (vessels in the design of) Princess Unikitty and an outhouse. We’ve had one shaped like an X-Wing fighter,” said Christiana Hudson, Sipapu marketing director. “They’re not necessarily the fastest, but they are super cool. It’s just so funny. It’s amazing how people can build these sculptural vessels out of cardboard, tape and paint.
“You can dress up like Han Solo and ride your Millennium Falcon down the mountain, wouldn’t you want to do that?”
The Cardboard Derby owes its origins to Sipapu general manager John Paul Bradley, who witnessed a similar event years ago and was inspired to host a derby for a fundraiser at his school, Colorado Mountain College. When he was hired in his current position, he realized that the hill in front of the Sipapu lodge would be an ideal site for a derby.
On average, approximately 25 to 40 people sign up for the derby each year in three different age groups: junior, teen and adult. A participant can race solo, or as many as five people can attempt to cram onto a vessel, which is challenging but does promote higher speeds.
Competitors have been known to spend as little as five minutes or as long as five hours constructing their craft, and prizes are awarded in categories such as funniest name, largest vessel, loudest competitors, slowest vessel, most colorful, most creative and best costume, to name a few. Points are also awarded for how close each vessel comes to hitting the bullseye at the bottom of the course.
“We kind of change it every year,” Hudson said of the categories. “Sometimes we have judges’ choice, where somebody is amazing and we want to make sure that we get some recognition. We have as much fun as people participating.”
This year’s prize haul includes a two-night stay at Sipapu, a season pass to the resort, a backpack from REI, Sipapu T-shirts and various other assorted swag.
The course itself is located near Sipapu’s beginner’s area. It’s not especially steep, but there’s enough of a slope so that cardboard vessels can go downhill. Safety isn’t an issue, though helmets are required to race.
“If anybody is gonna crash at the bottom, there are people there to catch,” Hudson said. “Cardboard doesn’t move very fast on snow. It’s fairly risk-free.”
There have been instances in which a vessel falls apart before it makes it to the bottom of the run, which is all part of the fun. Just know that a poorly constructed craft won’t go unnoticed – as many as 400 spectators attend the event on an annual basis.
“That’s what makes it so hilarious,” Hudson said. “Somebody will build something and they might use like one piece of tape … That’s the funniest part of it, watching fails as well.”
Hudson recommends that visitors make a weekend of the festivities. The race is fun for spectators and participants alike, and the recent snowfall means that skiing will be better at the resort than it typically is in late March for New Mexico. As far as the cardboard derby is concerned, half the fun is just seeing who makes it to the finish.
“There’s these people that build these incredible contraptions and you’re like, ‘There’s no way it’s going down the mountain,’ and it totally does,” Hudson said.