Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. An estimated 17,000 people filled every nook and cranny in Nederland last weekend. On Sunday afternoon, the Centennial Bank thermometer registered 72 degrees and recent snow accumulation evaporated into our thin air.
Slushy streets turned to mud and then dust. The Frozen Dead Guy Days Coffin Race Course snow mounds made it to race time, barely, before they became mere puddles.
But no one cared.
The warm weather enticed the crowd to play, to bask in sunshine, to hang out, to fill the restaurants and bars, to dance in the streets, to eat and drink and slather on sunscreen as they enjoyed Nederland’s one and only world-famous winter festival.
A record number of people engaged in the events that were held all over town. They bowled turkeys, tossed frozen salmon, wrestled into rock-hard t-shirts and spouted poetry from atop a wire spool in the middle of First Street.
On Friday night, the town filled up as Blue Ball revelers streamed to Chipeta Park. It was Nederland’s version of the Mardi Gras as glittery makeup and glowing lights surrounded turquoise hair and long shiny dresses. The costume contest attracted a bunch of Ice Queens and Grandpa Bredo Lookalikes who had a chance to parade between band sets in the Chipeta Park tent. Nederland Mayor Joe Gierlach introduced Kryssi Jacobson from Boulder in her debut frozen performance and TJ from Delaware, who attends the festival while visiting family.
The tent rocked, the dancers writhed en masse to the music of Gasoline Lollipop featuring the talent of Clay Rose of Jamestown. From 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., the park pulsed with the beat of the bands and then the party dispersed to other music venues in town.
Saturday dawned clear and sunny and the Nederland Area Seniors were already up, mixing batter and frying sausages. Within a couple of hours 450 people gobbled up the eggs and went back for seconds on the pancakes. NAS president Jim Elder said it was the first time they ran out of food and they had to make several runs to the grocery store.
Around 11:30, the traffic moved into every available parking slot in town. First Street parking cost $10 and they were sold out before the parade. Wild Mountain Smokehouse was closed for the day, but employees sold brats and beer from the deck to help fund the Fourth of July fireworks.
The throngs settled into parade formation along First Street, visiting the shops. Rustic Moose reports selling many hats. The Nederland Visitor’s Center had a tent sale of FDGD merchandise and Girl Scouts made the most of a last chance at cookies sales.
The hearses moved slowly towards the center of town, some of them old but reflecting chrome and polish, and others rusting and mournful, skeletons riding shotgun. The coffin teams cavorted to the center of town where they raised their cadaver filled coffins to the cheers of the crowd.
As the Pink Socks, five-time coffin race winners, appeared, the crowd roared. Half were cheers; half boos from those who wanted to see an underdog rise from the masses and take down the guys with the humble coffin and the engineer attitude.
During this time the Nederland Police Department, a corps of volunteers, and Boulder County Sheriff’s Deputies began their foot patrols and their afternoon-long traffic directing, allowing Nedestrians to cross the highway as skiers and travelers and locals tried to get through town.
Over the pedestrian bridge and over the weir bridge at the inlet, a human river flowed to the kids’ fishing pond where Nederland Fire Protection District volunteers Erik Gabbey, Alex Olivas, and Ken Hehoe waited at the ice hole. The wet-suited firefighters have been training for ice rescue and this was their chance to pull cold-stunned, costumed, bare-skinned plungers from the murky depths of the pond.
Over 30 divers participated in the event, each with their own style and drama in their water entry. The prize for the best costume went to Rocky Raccoon, a 10-foot high inflated balloon that bounced to the pond and then floated after launching; and for a while defied rescue. The Most Theatrical Jump went to a Grandpa Bredo Lookalike stalked by a zombie.
When the last plunger was hauled out of the pond, the multitudes filled the hillside overlooking the coffin race course. There was no Chinese Fire Drill this year. Just a muddy track around the playground with two humps of granular snow heading to the sludgy finish line.
All 30 racers went the first round, some of their teams and coffins disintegrating along the way. The Pink Socks slipped up a bit at the beginning, found their footing, and sailed through the finish like cotton candy.
When the costume pieces settled and the last lone runner chasing his coffin crossed the finish, the Socks were in first, with the Sacks and the Cereal Killers filling out the top three.
Before the final heat, each of the top teams had a chance to do a spontaneous eulogy, which, if the crowd deemed it the best, would take three seconds off their time.
With a shower of Lucky Charms, Peanut Butter Captain Crunch, and Cocoa Puffs onto their coffin passenger, the Cereal Killers won the hearts of the mob. When the passenger asked, “Got milk?” and was showered with an Oskars, they had the point advantage.
But there was no joy in Cereal Land. The Pink Socks prevailed, claiming their sixth win and their bragging rights to party on in Ned.
The bands in the tents played on.
A Human Foosball game continued through the afternoon in the giant game arena. Teams clutched the poles that allowed them to act in unity, kind of, as the ball came their way. First Street was filled with spectators and then dancers.
Twice in the afternoon, the Frozen T-Shirt contest took place in front of the Pioneer Inn. The women stamped on and battered their t-shirts into the dirt, used their teeth to open sleeves, screamed in frustration and yanked at any loose end. The winner, from Denver, got a free muddy t-shirt and everyone won a free beer.
A chess player in the middle of the street had three games going at once. A poet read “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.” The bass thump of the band tents drummed over the sound of bottlenecked traffic going over the bridge.
Sunday was even warmer than Saturday. Up at the Sundance Lodge and Cafe, the annual Frozen Salmon Toss, the food, and the view of Eldora Mountain Resort and the Continental Divide attracted their own crowd outside of town.
Three salmon sacrificed their bodies for the event, eventually to be pummeled to shreds as contestants tried to get a grip on their tails, fins, heads, gills, mouth, and eventually their limp broken stomachs.
Local resident Chris Dettman made a gallant attempt to redeem himself from the second-place category, but in the end gave up that place when there was a fish toss-off for second place.
The first place winner was Ed Tarleton who won second place in 2012 and first place in 2013, with a throw of 63.8 feet. The record was made in 2010 by Shiloh Lewis with a 69 foot throw. “There was something fishy about that throw,” commented a spectator.
The women’s division was won by Elizabeth Cabrerra with a 29.11 throw. The Kid’s Division record-breaking throw was made by Sebastion Buford, 12, of Denver, who was visiting friends in Nederland and decided that, being a middle-school quarterback, he knew how to throw and should give it a try. His second throw was 23 feet, 11 inches, which was good enough for first place as well as breaking the all-time kid’s throw of 20 feet.10 inches.
The salmon were a gift to the coyotes and the crows.
Back in town, the Beard and Mustache Contest attracted a bunch of hairy guys and one female with a mustache. The winner was Mike Fisher, whose dark beard was coated with white gluey stuff that he planned to shake off when he won, but the glue did not cooperate.
The First Street Pub and Grill held the annual Rocky Mountain Oyster Eating Contest and the restaurant was standing room only as supporters cheered for their favorite cheek-packed, eyes-popping contestant.
Nederland Police Department Chief Paul Carrill said, “Thanks to the planning and cooperation between FDGD Director Amanda MacDonald, the Town of Nederland, and all of the volunteers, the event went very smoothly. All in all it was well run and the weather allowed folks to enjoy themselves outside. I look forward to other events sponsored by the town.”
On Sunday afternoon, the band tents and the surrounding areas were still filled, people not wanting the weekend to end. And as the light faded, as the traffic dwindled, Nederland began to look like Nederland again.
A little worse for the wear, temporarily.
Probably a lot richer.
And filled with many exhausted volunteers and staff who made it the biggest and most successful festival in 14 years.