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Thrills and spills at the Cardboard Sled Race

Matt DeYoung • Jan 30, 2017 at 7:30 AM

For some, like local hockey players the Grand Haven Gringos, the Winterfest Cardboard Sled Race is all about speed.

The Gringos flew down the Ski Bowl hill with reckless abandon, coming in as the fastest sled in Saturday’s races.

For others, like Grand Haven’s Duane Schroeder, the race has a different meaning.

“This is the 18th year I’ve done this, and to me, it’s just the excitement that everyone has – all the different sleds, and they way people are laughing, if they lose or win,” the 62-year-old Schroeder said after Saturday’s race. “I’ll be here till I can’t get my wheelchair up to the top.”

Photo Gallery: Adults competing in the Winterfest Cardboard Sled Race

Schoeder and friends designed one of Saturday’s most spectacular sleds – a startling realistic rendition of the Grand Haven lighthouse with a section of catwalk and an orange life ring with the words, “Save the Catwalk” printed on it.

“It took us about a week to make it and 30 seconds to smash it, but we saved the catwalk,” Schroeder laughed.

Actually, the catwalk sled made its way down the hill intact on its first run, although a few members of the team bailed out along the way. On Run No. 2, the sled crashed near the bottom, with pieces of catwalk requiring rescue from Schroeder.

The Gringos also had a spectacular crash at the end of their second run, but made it down their third run unscathed. Their sled of choice was “Sled-Brero” – a sled in the shape of a giant sombrero. The saucer-shaped sled was built by Brian Snyder and Mike Risko, with fellow Gringos Nathan Patterson and Ben Braymer joining them.

Braymer said Saturday’s conditions were the poorest he’s seen in several years competing in the event.

“These were the worst conditions because it’s so soft, really loose,” Braymer said.

“But no conditions can slow ‘Sledbrero,’” a teammate chimed in.

A total of 120 sleds competed in Saturday’s event, which is one of the highlights of Grand Haven’s annual Winterfest celebration.

Many were simple designs created simply for speed, but many others showed a tremendous amount of creativity and effort.

Photos Gallery: Kids competing in the Winterfest Cardboard Sled Race

Grand Haven’s Matt Rodgers and friends created one of the most visually stunning sleds – a giant replica of the iron throne from HBO’s hit series, “Game of Thrones.” The friends all dressed as characters from the show. Rodgers was Jamie Lanister, while others assumed the role of Jon Snow, Hodor, Sansa Stark, Daenerys Targaryen and a dragon.

On the back of the throne read a play on the show’s slogan – “Winterfest is coming.”

“We all like the show, and it’s kind of an iconic chair, so we felt it would be a good one we could do together,” Rodgers said.

The large sled slowly but surely made its way down the hill on both of its runs.

“We’re surprised we made it down the hill alive,” Rodgers joked. “All the eight and the big platform slowed us down, and we had to push a little bit at the end.”

Another dazzling entry was Randy Weavers’ rendition of the Mystery Machine from “Scooby-Doo.” Weavers is the owner of Boss Dog Graphics in Robinson Township.

“We wanted to come up with a couple different designs, and this gave us the biggest profile to display our graphics and also offered the opportunity to have the best team spirit,” Weavers said. “I had my Great Dane down here, and we’re all dressed as characters from the show. Plus, this is boxy in the front. It doesn’t have any sharp points.”

Weavers said he had about 160 man-hours into the large boxy sled, which can seat up to nine. He said he made some design tweaks after last year’s six-pack sled turned sideways and crashed.

Unfortunately, this year’s version didn’t fare much better – the Mystery Machine again slid sideways and took a violent spill two-thirds of the way down the hill, causing the sled to break apart like an egg dropped onto the floor.

Melissa Heyer, one of the organizers of the event, said things went well, although a lack of snow across the area put a damper on the crowd.

“A hundred and twenty sleds is an average year, but we didn’t have as many spectators,” Heyer said. “I think the spectators didn’t think it was going to happen, but it did.

“It was a slow year. We thought it was going to be fast because of the weather but it was slow, which makes it a little frustrating because a lot of sleds didn’t make it to the finish line. It was actually the safest year we’ve had because of the slow conditions.”

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