Frozen Dead Guy blows a cold wind
It was the best of the Frozen Dead Guy Days Festival and it was the worst of Frozen Dead Guy Days Festival — all in the same weekend.
When high winds threatened to blow down tents and the safety of visitors on Saturday morning, March 3, FDGD Director Amanda MacDonald made the decision to postpone the coffin races, the polar plunge and other outdoor events until Sunday.
A mob of people were disappointed but they made the most of the situation and pressed into local bars and restaurants, lined up outside the Visitors’ Center as they pulled out their wallets, and they partied. “All’s well that ends well,” wrote Shakespeare, and last weekend is a splendid example of dealing well with adversity.
On Friday night, March 2, the festival’s opening ceremony at the roundabout in Nederland was typically cold. The ice sculpture changed colors as Nederland Mayor Joe Gierlach greeted a group of about 40 people, huddled into their scarves, blankets and extreme parkas.
Seven law enforcement officers shut down traffic while the ceremony commenced. Nederland Police Department Officer Jake Smith said he was in it for the long haul as were other Nederland officers and members of the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department.
Gierlach, in his long camel’s hair coat, hat, and with a cigar wiggling between his thumb and index finger, welcomed the crowd and Macdonald passed out paper poppers. Announcer Dave Felkley introduced the Zombie dancers from Nederland High School, and after their performance, the visitors and performers dispersed to find warmth.
The wind roared down from the Continental Divide. It screeched through naked aspen branches and created gravel snowdevils that stung cheeks and snatched hats.
Inside the Black Forest Restaurant, the atmosphere was hot and the frolicking Blue Ball participants created their own wind, twirling in their costumes. The Bredo Look-a-Like and Ice Queen contest has evolved from morbid creatures of the dead to whatever kind of costume strikes one’s fancy.
Heather Taylor of Nederland sported white and icy blue dreadlocks and blue lit bling bling. Two years ago, Heather won the Ice Queen contest, and she was dead set on winning again. Danielle Dennis of Nederland entered the costume contest for the first time. She wore a snowflake tiara, made with love by her friends.
When Caitlin Roth and Artie Thompson entered the room, there was little doubt who was going to win the contest. Dressed as royalty of Alice-in-Wonderland ilk, Caitlin and Artie proclaimed themselves the King and Queen of Gilpin County and promised to lower taxes. The statement was awarded with an explosion of cheers.
John Hedgepath, a disc jockey from Niwot, led the question and answer part of the contest, inciting the crowd to frenzy as he interviewed the three men and seven women contestants and declared the women as more fun than the men. One woman dressed in a pink cloud said she went to kindergarten in the building that she was now dancing in.
When the winners were announced, the King and Queen of Gilpin County promised to freeze taxes, and the band, the Square Groupers, played on as the wind wreaked havoc outside.
On Saturday morning, vendors and musicians and volunteers were greeted by the grim reality of the day: a blown over beer tent, a collapsed polar plunge tent and gusts that could roll a small dog into the creek.
Festival Director MacDonald was faced with the devastating choice between postponing the outdoor events or endangering property and people. The tent company informed her that she could not allow people in or around the tents because of the danger of becoming a 40 foot by 100 foot kite. She put out the word that everything except for the parade would be happen on Sunday. Chipeta Park was empty and quiet as volunteers tried to keep the tents together.
Unfortunately, a miscommunication led to some members of the Colorado Hearse Association thinking the event was canceled, and they didn’t show up. The parade, however, did go on. As people poured into town, hunching against the wind, the brave remnants of the parade entries gathered at the reservoir.
Local realtor Jimmy Keith was first in line with his horseless hearse. He and Steve Tebo collect hearses and Tebo recently added the hearse that carried John F. Kennedy’s body to his collection. A few coffin teams shrugged off the cold and wind and trudged up First Street in front of a surprisingly large number of spectators who weren’t going to give up, no matter what. A couple of horses pranced in the wind and the festival King and Queen from the previous night’s Blue Ball marched stoically up First Street.
During the parade, people were asked to leave the beer and music tent on First Street for safety reasons. Announcer Dave Felkley told the crowd, “If you don’t have a beer, please leave the area. If you do have a beer, be alert.”
A marijuana leaf walked through the spectators advertising an eighth of an ounce for $25. A couple wrapped in warm clothes sat on a bench in front of Nature’s Own with a sign saying, “Be positive. Stay high.”
After the parade, the crowd milled around, discussing their options. Many of them stayed, heading for the restaurants. The Visitors’ Center reported a record number of sales in the afternoon, people buying FDGD hats and hoodies.
One group of entrepreneurs roped off part of the shopping center parking lot and rented all-day spaces for $20. They also blocked off the exit, not allowing people to enter. As the traffic gradually cleared, the parking areas became a moot point.
Saturday night was busy but not packed. It was time for festival organizers to hope that the winds would die down by morning and that the events would go on. By mid-morning, the freezing gusts had become mere breezes, the sun warmed the air and one couldn’t have hoped for a better day.
Up at the Sundance Lodge and Restaurant, four large frozen salmon nestled in a red sled waiting for the Salmon Toss contenders to see how far they could throw the frozen fish. The contestants started out with a strategy, like grasping the fish by the tail, or the gills, to counteract the growing sliminess of thawing flesh. Race Organizer Hilary said, “The salmon melted even though they were stored in ice in a TUFF Shed.”
When the first round of salmon disintegrated to the point of being unthrowable, more fish were brought out. Keith Facchim of Nederland lofted the salmon 41 feet, nine inches in the morning run, getting a few skid-inches adding to the throw. Four-year-old Jay Hensley, Tony Farace’s grandson, won the children’s throw, flinging the fish 52 inches. He said he threw one before, but it was a baby. Then his mom tried to wipe the fish splatter from his jacket, using a fistful of snow.
At the end of the contest the final awards went to: Men, Keith Fachin 46.90 feet, an Ace emplyee; Ed Tarlleton 41.10, ex-bartender at the Pioneer Inn, Chris Dettman 39.60, aka Tall Chris from Ned; Women, Hilary Stephens, 30.02, owns the porta potty business; Maray Stonewall 24.10, Lynn Gohler 22.45, who came in first last year, and Kids, Jack Pool, age 11, 20 feet, 10 inches.
The Nederland Area Seniors Pancake Breakfast whipped up 60 dozen eggs at the Nederland Community Center. Breakfast volunteers were happy to be in the facility where they could feed many people at one time. The breakfast served 400 people, about 80 percent of its usual total, in spite of the postponement of Saturday’s events.
Serene Karplus of NAS said, “We are proud to have diverted over 50 pounds of waste from the landfill to NedCompost and diverted a 3-gallon bin of recycling and many dozens of egg cartons to be used at the Food Pantry.”
Nederland Fire Protection District volunteers gathered at the children’s fishing pond in Chipeta Park by mid-morning to chain saw a hole in the ice for the Polar Plunge. As the firefighters lounged spread eagle in the water, about 20 plungers leaped in various contorted positions into the just-about frozen water.
Each splash was greeted with cheers from the crowd spread out along the shores of the pond as bikinis, pajamas, Mexican hats, capes, evening gowns and kilts vaulted off the ice into the murky hole. A couple of girls from Nederland Middle/Senior High School wore their No Place for Hate t-shirts as they held their noses and splashed into the depths of the pond.
When the last polar person plunged, the ever-growing mass of visitors moved onto the hillside overlooking Chipeta Park to view the coffin races. The crowd was as large as any previous FDGD crowd as spectators scrunched into available space. While they waited for the race to begin, volunteers spurred them into waves and cheering frenzies. Coffin team members warmed up with exercises and with playing on the children’s playground equipment.
Members of the Pink Socks, two-time race winners, said they were going to do just what they did before, only faster. Twenty six teams signed up for the competition. Clad in a purple body suit, a member of Team Hypothermia said they were fixing to dethrone the Pink Socks. “We have a heavy coffin this year, but we also have been doing superpower steroids, so we should be all right.”
The race director cautioned the teams that yak tracks were not allowed, unsportsman-like conduct would result in eviction and to keep it light and fun. Of the 26 teams, the top four ran a second heat and then the top two had a championship race. In the first heat, Get Your Kick Coors 66 beat Super Dan. Bone Collectors beat Slippery When Wet. Frozen Assets beat Dexter. The Pink Socks beat Hypothermia. South Park beat the Adams Family. Bring Out Your Dead beat Frozen Lederhosen. Pajama Party beat the Bayou. Awkward beat the Frozen Lizards and the Injustice Team beat the clock.
It came down to Pink Socks, Bone Collector, Donner Party and Frozen Assets. The teams vied for position going up the first hill and all had trouble getting over the whoop-de-dos, when many of the coffin riders slid out the back end and had to be reseated. The Donner Party, in the last heat, gave in to the spill and Pink Socks claimed their third title and a good reason to continue the celebration. Frozen Assets was second and Donner Party was third.
The Best Costume Award was given to the Bring Out the Dead and the Most Spirited Award went to Frozen Assets.
The party wasn’t over, though, oh no, not yet. Contests abounded on First Street. Frozen turkey bowling attracted a crowd as contestants heaved up to 20 pounds of fowl flesh at pins erected in the snow. Others pounded and pulled frozen T-shirts trying to smash them into malleability enough to wear. Volleyball in the snow was an all-day event, as pickup teams slid and slithered as they went for kills and digs.
Behind the Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery, creek side, the Air Guitar Contest revealed rock star wannabes, as they doffed their humble, shy exteriors and became hip-swiveling, leaping, gyrating performers.
The contest was ultimately won by Ari and Melina Goldstein of Boulder, a brother and sister act. In the final round when the two youth went up against two male adults, Ari tore off his shirt, swung it around his head and tossed it into the crowd. He then poured a bottle of water over his head and began ripping it up while his sister jived and shook out her hair.
Ari and Melina’s mother stared at her progeny and wondered out loud, “Who are you?” saying her kids were normally shy and quiet. Once the awards were presented, everyone in the tent performed their version of Air Guitar to promote world peace.
At the First Street Pub and Grill, the annual Rocky Mountain Oyster Eating Contest was under way, with Dave Felkley explaining what the oysters actually are and how the contest is won to a standing-room-only house.
Most of the contestants were novices, having never eaten mountain oysters before, or entered an eating contest. Last year’s winner Josh Copeland flexed his cage-fighter muscles and said he was ready for the competition. He developed a rhythm, picking up the batter-fried oyster, chewing and washing it down with water. He was the first in his heat and the first in the final round, swallowing and throwing his arms in the air. He won $50 and the oysters he had eaten.
By late Sunday afternoon, the 11th Frozen Dead Guy Days Festival melted into history. What could have been a devastating loss for Nederland’s business community was reversed by superb weather on Sunday. Organizers, vendors and volunteers stepped up to the challenge and made the most of a bad wind day, but a great Sunday.
After being visited by Bo Shaffer’s Chocolate Tour guests, Bredo returned to his slumber in the TUFF Shed. Local businesses added the weekend’s profit to their winter coffers and event organizers breathed a sigh of relief.
The Nederland Police Department officers, though busy all weekend, reported there were no major criminal activities and, except for a mid-afternoon ski and festival traffic jam, the gridlock situation was handled well. Those who went through the weekend’s ups and downs were ultimately pleased with how it all came out and how so many stepped up to make the most of the situation.
“I am so thankful to all the people who helped and supported me during the wind event. The volunteers were incredible and everything I wanted to have happen happened on Sunday,” said Coordinator Amanda MacDonald.