What do you call weather than can flip from sunny and 50 degrees to puking snow and teen temps in 24 hours? Spring.
It’s a crazy, unpredictable time of year. Adding to this meteorological craziness is the general revelry and fanfare that takes place at ski resorts as they prepare to move the moguls into storage, replant the grass on the slopes and switch to summer.
These end-of-season and closing day parties are festive affairs that encourage brightly colored outfits (like neon onesies) and include a wide range of events. Some require specific skills, like hitting rails or taking on the half pipe. Others may test a participant’s endurance, challenging them to hike up the mountain or lap a mogul run multiple times.
And others, well, they test gravity. And slide-ability. And spandex.
The events vary, but there are some universal truths: spectacular costumes are required; waiting until the last minute is not an option; gravity is not always your friend.
However, if you’re looking to enter the annals of spectacular showmanship at a spring festival, here are some tips.
Cardboard Derby/Cardboard Classic/Duct Tape Derby
In this snowy spin on a type of race that has brought families together since the ‘50s, the cardboard derby challenges participants to create entries out of nothing more than office supplies and race down a ski slope.
While each resort will have specific rules on the elements that are either allowed or verboten, the general gist is this:
- Craft must be constructed of cardboard, duct and/or masking tape, string, twine, paint (and sometimes glue). Other decorations may be allowed, per the resort.
- Sometimes the goal is to get down the slope as fast as you can. In some cases, it’s simply to slide in style. Sample categories for judging might include most creative, crowd favorite, loudest vessel, slowest vessel and others.
- Teams can range from solo drivers to teams of four, depending on how many friends you can con into participating.
Tori Milar, who competed in the Cardboard Classic in Steamboat for the past three years (and won two out of those three), offers these tips for dominating the downhill.
1. Construct your craft carefully: “For the bottom piece, it was always a solid piece of cardboard,” Milar said. “We’d go to Wal-Mart or Ace or even Sears, and get the big boxes in back that they were recycling…and we would tape all the tape in one direction in big, single strip.” This technique keeps the craft streamlined and helps minimize snow build-up on the bottom.
2. The theme is also important: “Last year, we went the political route and made a waste management dumpster,” Milar explained. After constructing the perfect replica, Milar and her teammates dressed up as bears and called the craft “Dumpster Divers.” They won for most creative.
3. Use physics: Keep the majority of the weight in the back of the craft and pull up the front to help glide over the snow. Milar said that one year, the craft was just too heavy in the front; it didn’t make it very far.
4. Of course, conditions do matter: “In spring conditions, sometimes you’re just screwed,” Milar said. “With a large amount of slush, it can build up.”
5. Know the rules: Sometimes speed—or lack thereof—doesn’t matter: “Even if you get down the hill completely, it doesn’t matter as far as winning the prizes.” At Steamboat at least, creativity counts more than endurance.
In Germany, Schneetag translates to “snow day.” In Aspen, the translation is more physical: it means a team of four daredevils dressing up in crazy costumes (with a theme), performing a choreographed skit at the top of a hill and piloting a homemade craft down said hill, over a jump and across a 20×40 foot pond.
- Must be a team of four.
- Team must perform a skit before their run.
- Craft must be human powered with no external energy sources and must be > 10’ wide and > 400 lbs.
- 1 team member pilots the craft across the pond
- Teams are judged on costume theme, creativity and flight craft.
The results are hilarious. If you want to dominate at Schneetag, here are a few tips from a past competitor and Aspen resident, Darren Green.
1. Theme matters: retro is always cool, but incorporating recent news events or pop culture will also get the judges excited.
2. Whip out a surprise: “Two years ago, a group started with a Swedish-looking mountain, wearing suspenders with beer mugs. Suddenly, the music stopped. No one knew what was happening, but then they ripped apart what had looked like a mountain and it had now become a wrecking ball,” Green said. “They ripped off their clothes and they were wearing long underwear like in the [Miley Cyrus’s] music video for ‘Wrecking Ball.’ One guy actually got up on it and started swinging back and forth. It was incredible.”
3. Think of the physics of the event, like how your craft will slide both down the hill and across the water. If it’s too heavy, it won’t make it down the slope at all.
4. When in doubt, pull out all the stops and bribe the judges: “We lost last year because one group openly and publicly bribed the judges with a bottle of champagne,” Green said.
Pond Skimming/ Slush Cup
Call it what you will—you’ll find that pond skimming and “slush cups” are pretty much the same thing with different names—but this attempt to glide across the surface of a pond after sliding down a slope while on skis or a snowboard is the most prevalent spring competition around.
Rules vary by resort but are pretty simple:
- There might be an age limit and/or height limit, so make sure that you qualify.
- Make sure to register ahead of time to ensure you have a spot.
- Most resorts require some sort of clothing. No one likes snow rash.
- Depending on the resort, there could be a “if it skims, it can win” policy. In that case, break out the snow bikes, surf boards or skateboard in addition to your skis, snowboard or ski blades. Creativity might be rewarded.
- Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you make it to the end; some resorts have a prize for best splash, so know the categories for potential glory prior to your run.
Whether it’s one pond or two, big crowds or small, there are some universal tips for crushing the slush cup. Sarah Sherman, Mammoth Mountain Snow Reporter, offers these tips and techniques for dominating the Skim.
1. Costumes are Key: Being crowned the King or Queen of Pond Skimming isn’t just about skills—style matters, too. Sherman suggests donning superhero duds.
2. Get some speed: “You will need more speed than you think to make it in a pond skim competition,” Sherman said. “Spring snow is slower and once you hit the water, you will lose some major velocity. There’s nothing worse than a could-have-been success ending with you standing knee deep in the center of the pond.”
3. Lean back: If you catch your tips, you’ll end up face-first in an icy pond, which is no bueno. “Bring your weight back as if you were water-skiing or wakeboarding to increase your chance of successfully skimming the length of the pond,” Sherman said.
4. Size matters: As with certain things in life, bigger is better, so break out your pow skis / board. “The more surface area you have strapped to your feet, the better you’ll float,” Sherman explained. “It’s as simple as that. Bring out the boats and be amazed at how much farther you can make it.”
5. Along the same lines…Go big: A costume and a clean run isn’t always enough—Sherman said to add some flair to your run. Mammoth has two ponds and a jump in between, but no matter where you skim, there will be plenty of opportunity for you to make your mark. Throw in a spin, a grab, or even a wacky wave to spice things up and stand out to the crowd.
6. Consider your eyewear: Make sure to wear some eye protection for the glare. Goggles are also a good option: “If you do fall, you’ll be prepared to breaststroke through the pond,” Sherman suggested. “Maybe the judges will still count it if you can hold your breath till the end.”
Of course, sometimes it’s what you don’t know that makes a difference. Krista Driscoll, who has competed in Vail’s World Pond Skimming Championships several times (and crashed and burned every single time), said that she wished she had known the following before skimming. Learn from her pain, folks.
Prior to Take Off:
7. Check the weather: “If it’s supposed to be cold, don’t sit at the top of the run in a skimpy costume freezing your ass off,” Driscoll said. “By the time it’s your turn to go, your legs will be numb and you won’t have ski control. Wear warm clothes, take them off at the last minute and have someone with you at the top to bring your clothes to the bottom for you.”
8. Demand a hot tub: This is to help raise your body temperature after you sample the pool. “One year at Vail it was cold and overcast and they just had propane heaters because the hot tub company couldn’t get their insurance in line in time,” Driscoll remembered. “Even though I changed out of my wet clothes right away, it took me a really long time to stop shivering, even huddled under a heater,”
9. Check the DIN on your skis: “I had a ski release one year and it sank to the bottom of the pond. They drag you out right away to keep the event moving, so I had to wait until the pond was drained at the end of the event to get my ski back,” Driscoll said.
10. Bring a cheering squad: “Vail’s competition is based partially on judging and partially on crowd response, so the more people you have with you to cheer for you, the better you’ll do,” Driscoll explained. It’s sound advice.
Whatever your competitive pleasure this spring, take these tips to make it memorable. Even if you decide not to compete, be sure to go out and support the brave souls who take on the challenge. Spring is all about celebrations, so take the party to the snow and make some memories.