– Few festivals have been conceived under circumstances more bizarre than those that gave us Frozen Dead Guy Days.
It all began with Bredo Morstel, an elderly Norwegian outdoor enthusiast who succumbed to a heart attack in 1989. Bredo’s daughter had his body cryogenically frozen and then immigrated to Nederland, Colorado with the old man. After she was deported during the mid-90s, the town found itself unwitting host to a cryonics facility for one. Somehow the attention garnered by this odd turn of events provided the genesis for Frozen Dead Guy Days, a three-day festival honoring (im)mortality and the austere beauty of winter.
Half of the adventure is getting there. Boulder Canyon Drive follows the course of Boulder Creek through defiles of rock and aspen groves dotted with log cabins. In March, the road surface is a mess of ice and grit best negotiated in a four-wheel drive vehicle. At 8200 feet you reach Barker dam and the cigar-shaped reservoir it restrains. Ned nestles on the western shore. In the roundabout leading into town sits a totem commemorating Frozen Dead Guy Days: in 2011 a wooden chainsaw sculpture of a skeleton rocking out on guitar; the following year a snow sculpture of death holding a blue ice-pop. The opening ceremony takes place here on Friday night. The mayor makes a few remarks and then a dance troupe of high schoolers in Karate Kid skeleton garb put on their own rendition of Thriller.
Deathly Dancers and Hearse Parades
Later that night ghouls and ghosts dressed to the nines make for the Black Forest restaurant to attend the Blue Ball, an evening of macabre dancing and Grandpa Bredo look-alike contests. The next morning the crowd gathers along First Street for the Parade of Hearses. The wind cuts through flesh and bone so revelers spice up their waiting with trips to the bar for shots, appetizers and a few moments by the fire. At the appointed hour comes the procession of chrome-piped and psychedelically painted death-wagons and zombie marching bands. After the parade, most people head to the tents for beer, live folk music and an array of comfort foods from buffalo chili to roasted turkey legs.
A Bumpy Ride to the Grave
The Coffin Races are, without a doubt, the main event of the whole weekend. Racers dressed like hot dogs, farm animals or the Jamaican bobsled team take turns climbing and clawing their way through an obstacle course laid out in the slush-covered children’s playground in Chipeta Park toting wooden racing coffins. Inside the casket one team-member is both corpse and coxswain directing a team of pall bearers through the snow. Needless to say the body doesn’t always make it to the final resting place. A crowd of hundreds is on hand to spice up the affair with taunts and snowballs.
Every Roll is a Turkey
The secret to taking out ten bowling pins with a 15 pound frozen turkey from thirty feet away is to chuck it like a shot put — one hand for propelling the bird at an optimal 30 degree angle and the other for guidance. If you try rolling a frozen turkey, its lumpiness makes a straight path nigh impossible and the snow puts up more resistance than you might think. The footing is also a slushy mess; more than a few drunken bowlers have ended up on their asses in front of the crowd of 50 or so gathered in front of the Wild Mountain smokehouse. Finally it’s my turn. My first throw sails a bit to the left, but I clip four pins. I take a step to the right and fire again, over throwing and only hitting one. At this point my fingers are going numb and, alas, my last offering is an airball.
Embracing the Cold
Everyone is shivering by the end of Frozen Dead Guy Days. A few of the events, however, take frigidity to another level. Those who participate in the polar plunge dive right in (signing waivers before doing so). The salmon toss is relatively tame by comparison, though often a bloody mess. The challenge of the frozen t-shirt contest is getting a rock solid piece of clothing sufficiently thawed and braised so that it can actually be worn. Strategies range from mashing a warm belly or bottom on it to bashing the thing against the curb. Participants in the Newly Dead Game suffer more from brain freeze as they try to guess their partner’s final wishes. My wife and I came in second one year and won an autographed book on funeral planning — a real page turner, I assure you.
The 2014 Frozen Dead Guy Days will be held from March 7-9 in Nederland, Colorado. Check out Rich’s complete Custom Guide here.
Rich Carriero is a travel writer living in Colorado. His principle interests are history and the outdoors. More of his work can be found at www.richcarriero.com