Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. The music tents were filled to the brim, spilling people out into the drinking areas. Sidewalk to sidewalk pedestrians rippled up and down First Street. Pools of people gathered around the street performers, the poets, the turkey tossers and the frozen t-shirt unravelers.
On Saturday, Nederland learned the true definition of a crowd. It is estimated at least 20,000 people showed up for the Frozen Dead Guy Festival. A team of 25 Colorado Mounted Rangers roamed through the masses, a physical presence, and allowed the Nedestrians to cross the highway safely.
Frozen Dead Guy Days, 2017, once again exceeded itself, bringing in fun-loving folks from all over the country who invite their families, neighbors and their families and neighbors to join frozen frivolity.
After 16 years of celebrating its cryogenically frozen grandfather who lives in a Tuff Shed, the event has not dwindled, but has morphed into a huge party, now family friendly and attracting more bands, more vendors and more activities to enjoy than ever before.
Bredo Morstol, a Norwegian native, believed in the healing power of ice water and his grandson Trygve carried it a step further to include flash freezing a person who died with the intent of bringing that person back to life in the future, when there was a cure for what had ailed him. Bredo’s daughter, Aud, and grandson, Trygve, honored the old Norwegian’s beliefs by having him cryogenically frozen in California.
When Aud and Trygve moved to Colorado to build a bomb, hurricane, fire and flood-proof home outside of Nederland, they brought Grandpa Bredo with them and settled his dry-iced remains in a shed on the property.
When Trygve was deported for several different reasons and Aud was removed from the property because she did not have a certificate of occupancy to live in the house, she panicked and spilled the beans about her father’s body being on the property.
A big ruckus erupted, an international news story, and ultimately Bredo was allowed to stay but his family wasn’t. Aud went back to Norway. She and Trygve still own the property and her dad now resides in a Tuff Shed, tucked in with dry ice.
In 2000, the Nederland Chamber of Commerce, led by Theresa Warren, and a melting March economy, decided to capitalize on Grandpa’s situation and begin a festival. The total wackiness of the whole idea caught on like wildfire and Nederland was put on the map of strange and wonderful things that are cause for celebration.
FDGD happens mid-March. It is a weekend that downtown businesses prepare for and shopping center businesses put up No Event parking signs so locals can buy groceries, do their laundry and go to their Yoga classes. Most residents participate in the party from a distance.
On Friday, the Blue Ball Grandpa and Ice Queen Look-Alike Contest encourages theme costumes which range from zombie faces to icicle beards. A team of judges including: Scott Dewald: Owner of Greener Mountain Grow Shop; Celeste Peabody-Smith: GM of Rocky Mountain Oyster Bar; Michel Tapia: Marketing Manger, Eldora Mountain Resort; Corey Sutton: Owner of Corey Sutton Inc.,stylist; and Heather Gray: RE/MAX Realtor, listened to the look-alike contestants answer questions that almost demanded lascivious answers and analyzed the sincerity of the costumes.
This year each person was asked to remember a musician who died in 2016 and sing a few lines. Former Nederland Mayor Joe Gerlach and announcer Stephanie Andelman kept the repartee rolling.
All but one contestant was from out of town or out of state, some of them traveling from as far as Florida to attend Ned’s largest festival. This year enticed a large number of men to compete, some of whom didn’t even know where Bredo was from and some were just interested in having the chance to dance a jig on stage.
The Re-animation Tent rocked to the lineup of bands for the night. Outside of the tent, a flame dancer entertained the spillover crowd and at one point a local law enforcement officer demonstrated his martial arts skills with the torches.
Saturday morning, for those who didn’t go to the Blue Ball, began early at the Nederland Area Senior’s Annual Pancake Breakfast with Jim Elder in charge of the kitchen and a cadre of volunteers serving the crowd. The breakfast was held both Saturday and Sunday and at least 500 people loaded up the carbs to keep them warm through the day.
The morning began with a heavy mist dropping down over the reservoir and leaking into the town, creating an appropriate creepy effect as the hearses lined up for the annual FDGD parade. With skeletal feet hanging out the back and walking dead drivers, the vintage, dead guy decorated vehicles have always pleased the crowd.
The parade crept up First Street where they stopped in front of the Mountain People’s Co-op where Little Foot, the announcer, made sure that the thousands of people lining the street knew who they were seeing. Coffin teams held their passengers high and then did the Chinese Fire Drill as the crowd roared their approval.
As the last team cleared the street, a massive surge of people headed to the reservoir where the above-ground pool filled with extra cold ice water awaited the hardy, brave, die-hard men, women and children who signed up for the polar plunge.
Bikinis and tutus and bulging bellies hurtled through the air, landing in numbing reality as members of the Nederland Fire Protection District, warm in their diving suits, assisted the breath challenged plungers.
Once again, most of the jumpers were from out of town. Nederland Middle Senior High School student Townes Bakke represented the town teens as he braved the leap.
After the plunge, the coffin race area filled with fans, thousands of them, ready for the main event. They stood on the slight hillside around the course which had been outlined with logs and Eldora-born snow brought in by dump trucks. Warm breezes had, however, diminished much of it to slush and ultimately slimy mud pools, which, of course, were included in the finish stretch. It was an ugly scene, with many of the competitors slipping into the muck, crawling their way out while others carried their coffins over them. Twenty-five teams, that’s 175 racers competed.
Last year’s winning team, the Nerds, showed up to reclaim the title. They had ousted the long-time winners The Pink Socks, who retired their pinkness after the defeat. The Nerds had a good, logical strategy for the course, which unfortunately did not include the burly strength of a bunch of CU ROTC students, who muscled their way around the white-coated doctorate students, in the name of Star Wars: The Phantom Knife-Hand.
Coffin mastermind Marilyn Medalion said, “Our inspiration in a world of DA4850’s and endless micromanagement, is to strive to break from the monotony of being a cadet and make memories with our battle buddies.” After winning the $100 first place prize, the mud-splattered students said it had been much more difficult than they anticipated, but they had the force on their side.
Eldora Mountain Resort ski and snowboard instructors, AKA the Deadly Downhillers, mustered up a team for the first time and sporting their signature red jackets actually made it to the semi-finals before they were mowed down.
The Second Place prize went to Team Awkward who described themselves as, “A group of weirdos with animal tendencies. Six years ago, the awkward tradition started as manimals, part man, part animal. This year we decided to embrace the animal inside and put the spirit animal on the outside as their costume. We are a collection of transplant friends and random roommates.”
This year’s coffins demonstrated a spike of creativity with teams carrying blue plastic swimming pools, whisky kegs, ladders, kayaks and a cardboard contraption that disintegrated before the finish. It was hilarious and outrageous in its spontaneous and singular presentation of how much fun people can have playing in the mud wearing tutus with boots.
The 2017 Best Theme Coffin went to “The Only Good Lawyer is a Dead Lawyer,” who are staff members from an elder law office in Tampa, Florida. The all-female team members are either lawyers or paralegals. The group of women took off at the start, along with their opponent, but were instantly left behind, as they stolidly trudged over the crusty course, deliberating all the way, not going too fast. Dressed austerely, they walked, heads held high, spine straight, until they approached the finish when they yanked off their jackets and pranced around the mud hole. The crowd loved them.
The Animals Misfits won the Most Spirited Award, for their boisterous approach to the contest. Misfit Samantha Chen said they all just happened to have animal costumes in their closets and besides that, “It’s my birthday.” There were all kinds of reasons for entering the Coffin race.
The crowd then moved back to the beer and band tents, to the fun and games that were taking place on First Street. The frozen turkey bowling is one of the more popular events with athletes of all ages. Turkeys are for the big guys and gals, and chickens are for the kids. It is a dangerous game, as sometimes the fowl leaves its intended path towards the pins and flies into the crowd.
Human Foosball competition and Frozen T-shirt contests: there was much to see and do all contained on the main street in town. A street entertainer persuaded four strong men to hang onto ropes that supported a ladder while he balanced on the top of it juggling torches and long sharp knives at the same time.
As people meandered through the roadside attractions, they also lined up at the food vendors, who offered a tantalizing variety of street tacos, barbecue, slabs of ribs, pizza slices, funnel cakes, turkey legs, healthy snow cones, hot chocolate and warm cinnamon almonds in a cool paper container. It was a smorgasbord of better than average fast food.
As dusk approached, the wandering families wandered away and the adults poured into the tents where local and not so local favorite bands kept the pulse pounding until closing time.
On Sunday, many of the Saturday contests were held again for those who had missed their chance to wrestle with a rock solid frozen t-shirt, in an attempt to tear apart an opening for their arms and head. The local favorite Sunday event is the annual Frozen salmon toss at the Sundance Restaurant and Lodge. Hillary Stephenson orders a few prime three-foot long salmons which are damaged beyond repair as throwers get a grip on gills and do their best to throw the fish the farthest.
Hilary Kysar, of Rollinsville, won the women’s division for the third time. Chris Dettman, who has been a five-time second placer, didn’t even make it to third place this year because his salmon became disemboweled in the first few seconds of its flight. It just kind of flaked in all directions.
Ben, a boy from Florida, won the kids’ event and Tyler, a local, won the men’s category. First Street activities came to an end, the bands wrapped up, the food vendors shut off their grills and traffic and security workers welcomed the relative quiet of downtown streets.
By all definitions, the 2017 Frozen Dead Guy Days was an overwhelming success.