RED LODGE MOUNTAIN — Spandex-clad, mutant turtles, an overweight Incredible Hulk and several Supermen and Superwomen were among the competitors gracelessly descending the hill to Red Lodge Mountain’s base area Saturday.
It was the 2018 "Cardboard Classic," a spectacle that for 40 years or so has been one of the main non-skiing attractions at the local hill.
This year's theme was "superheroes."
Waiting at the top of the Show Off Alley run before the races began, a team of Powerpuff Girls showed off their sled, fashioned after the bed shared by the cartoon's protagonists. They had just won top honors for the most creative sled, despite their simplistic design — a two-inch-high, cardboard rectangle with pink, blue and green stripes, and a pink headboard.
The rules for the homemade sleds are straightforward, and require contestants to create their vehicles using just cardboard, glue and tape.
Skylar Steward, clad in a blonde wig, white leggings and a powder-blue dress, admitted his team's win in the creative category was surprising.
"We're just as confused as everybody else," Stewart said.
His teammate, Brody Adams, explained their approach to the sled’s undercarriage, which consisted of frictionless tape stretched over several parallel lines of Liquid Nails glue serving as runners. He hoped it would be an improvement over the last time they raced.
"Last year was not good," Adams said. "Our sled ended up in pieces."
The races began shortly after noon and consisted of four heats; three divided by the contestants' ages, and an "Unlimited" heat comprising four-person sledding teams.
Racing in the Unlimited heat, the Powerpuff Girls’ sled remained intact this year, making it across the finish line within the top 50 percent of contestants. But despite the structural improvements, it was bested by several others, including the first-place team, the Party Wagon. As one of several quartets of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the team did not win the most creative costume contest.
Fat flakes of snow clung to Corey Coggins's beard as he sported Michelangelo’s signature orange bandanna and basked in his team's victory.
Like some of the other contestants, his team had recycled the base of the sled from a previous year, in which he estimates the four of them spent the equivalent of a 40-hour week designing and building.
The structure includes a "honeycomb" design, he explained, modeled after the lightweight core used in Burton Snowboards.
"One of the guys in our team, he used to work in a snowboard shop back in Rapid City," Coggins said. "He was like, 'Dude, we should totally do that.' So we took these (cardboard) tubes and cut them into 6-inch pieces and stuck them all together, so it's pretty much all air in the actual craft. So there's a little engineering."
A returning winner was Gary Herem, a Red Lodge native who has competed in the last 9 cardboard competitions at the mountain. His two-person team took first place in the adult heat, riding a large, red rocket with "ACME" painted on the side, an ode to the classic Looney Tunes character Wile E. Coyote.
"We figured, hey, he never gives up," Herem said after his high-speed run. "That's a hero."
The Cardboard Classic has been taking place in Red Lodge for about four decades, except in years of poor snow, said Red Lodge Mountain General Manager Jeff Schmidt.
While he couldn't pinpoint the exact time the tradition began, he said it's been toned down over the years for safety reasons. Early iterations of the event used sleds made out of furniture and ended when contestants crashed into the snow berms at the bottom of the run, rather than the netting that's now used to slow the riders down after they cross the finish line.
"It used to be a lot rowdier," Schmidt said. "There was more carnage, more injuries."
The ski area also tries to limit the amount of imbibing by the contestants prior to the race, he added, but the point of the event remains the same.
"This got started to get more people up here," Schmidt said. "It's a good way to get people up here that don't normally come, that don't ski or snowboard."