ScoutingJanuary-February 2002

Snow Box Derby

By Bill Sloan

Cardboard boxes and rolls of duct tape become wild and wacky racers for an annual Tiger Cub 'slushfest.'

When the Tiger Cubs of North Carolina's Old Hickory council line up for their annual Snow Box Derby, nobody has to tell them to start their engines.

Their "race cars" are only cardboard boxes reinforced with duct tape, glue, paint, and plastic bags, and their sole source of power is gravity. But as the 6- and 7-year-old racers streak down the slippery trail at the Appalachian Ski Mountain resort, their inner engines are running at full speed.

"I keep on crashing," shouts Chris Cosolito, resurrecting his black-and-gray airplane-shaped racer from a snowdrift and preparing to try again.

Temperatures are in the low 40s, which means the snow is starting to melt under the friction of double-elimination heats. And the wetter the 20 homemade racers get as they plunge headlong down the mountainside, the more uncertain their direction becomes.

Lacking any steering mechanism, they tend to veer sharply to the left, toward a thick stand of pines. The harder it gets to control the boxes, the louder the yells from racers and spectators alike.

'Look out below!'

"Look out below! There are no brakes on that thing!"

Fortunately, a line of volunteers stands abreast to hold the finish line. Another group lines up to keep the racers safely separated from the trees. Among them are Eagle Scouts Jared Bellmund and Shawn Johnson, both 19. They are members of Delta Chi fraternity at nearby Appalachian State University, which sends a group of volunteers to the derby each year.

As with all Scouting activities, safety is important at this event. A key step before such an activity begins is conducting an adequate site inspection, watching for potential obstacles.

All vehicles entered in the annual "slushfest" started out as ordinary medium-size boxes, many of which had originally been used to package computers. But in most cases, hard work and imagination have eradicated virtually all traces of their former use.

One car has assumed the shape of Kellogg's Tony the Tiger. Another, called the Golden Eagle, has twin cardboard exhausts and cardboard skis on the bottom. Yet another resembles a flaming locomotive.

"Everything he likes is on here," says Stephen Schmal, pointing to his son Stevie's creation, plastered with pictures of the Backstreet Boys, Super Mario, Chipper Jones, and a fierce tiger.

But as the cars slip and slide toward the finish line, with scores of parents shouting encouragement, it becomes obvious that the one to watch is a sleek, bright-orange entry named General Lee, piloted by 7-year-old Ben Hicks.

It stands only about a foot above ground level for minimal wind resistance, and the duct tape that swathes its body is applied as smoothly as a coat of paint, so that not a speck of the underlying pasteboard shows.

Helped by this protective coating and its low-slung design, the General Lee proves as durable a competitor as its Civil War namesake and carries Ben to a decisive victory at the bottom of the slope.

Michael Wood finishes second and Ethan Poulos comes in third, but all derby participants are awarded ribbons, including several for the best and most original car designs.

A support event

"Essentially, we patterned our event after Cub Scouting's pinewood derby," says Mike Boone. "Only we use paper boxes and a ski slope." A veteran Scouter in the Old Hickory council's Blue Ridge District, Boone developed the idea for the Snow Box Derby two decades ago.

"I was a district executive in the early 80's, when the Tiger Cub program was new," he says. "And I thought we needed some kind of special activity to support it."

In some packs, the Tiger Cub program had trouble surviving the long Christmas holiday break, Boone points out.

"We were looking for something the kids could work on and focus their attention on during that downtime, and we came up with the Snow Box Derby. I think it's been an effective tool for keeping kids in the program. The majority of our derby participants stay in Scouting all the way through."

Now a much-anticipated February event open to Tiger Cubs throughout the council, the derby unquestionably rates as one of the coolest—and wettest—activities of the year for Scouting's youngest members.

Bill Sloan is a Scouting magazine contributing editor.

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