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Frozen Dead Guy Days outgrows Nederland, finds new home in Estes Park

Frozen Dead Guy Days Image 2012.jpg
Kent Kanouse
/
CC BY-NC 2.0
The Frozen Dead Guy Days coffin Race, Nederland, Colorado, March 4, 2012.

After 20 years of celebrations in Nederland, Colorado, Frozen Dead Guy Days is moving to Estes Park this spring. The festival, which started in 2002, had become an iconic event for the small town of Nederland, Colorado. Just a few weeks ago, organizers announced they were cancelling the festival, citing a lack of municipal support. It didn’t take long for a new owner to step in and bring the quirky and beloved annual event back to life, in a new location.

Frozen Dead Guy Days is an annual party celebrating a strange twist of fate that led the frozen body of a deceased Norwegian man to a Tuff Shed in Nederland. According to festival organizers, Grandpa, as he is known to Frozen Dead Guy Days devotees, passed away in his native Norway 1989. Grandpa’s family had his body cryogenically frozen and shipped to the US.

Grandpa’s body ultimately ended up on dry ice in the small mountain town west of Boulder. When people found out about it, the story was too strange to ignore, and the weekend-long festival featuring music, coffin races, ice-carving and other death- and ice-themed activities was born.

Nederland Town Administrator Miranda Fisher said Frozen Dead Guy Days has been a big draw to the area. “I think often times when you think of Nederland, you think of Frozen Dead Guy Days,” she said.

According to organizers, between 22,000 and 25,000 people showed up for the event in 2022. Fisher said those kinds of crowds overwhelmed the town.

“We unfortunately did see quite a bit of damage from the 2022 festival."
Nederland Town Administrator Miranda Fisher

Even so, Fisher said the town of Nederland did not set out to drive the festival away. “We've never objected to the festival,” she said, “but just needed to have some things changed.”

The town asked organizers Sarah Mosely Martin and Amanda MacDonald to apply for a festival permit nine months in advance and required them to hire an independent event planner to help with logistics. Nederland also increased fees for security and law enforcement presence.

“We felt like at the end of the day, their security was not as adequate as we would have liked to have seen, which would mean we would need to bring in more of our law enforcement officers.” Fisher said.

Fisher said that Geurcio Field, where Frozen Dead Guy Days events were traditionally held, had to be closed due to a Great Outdoors Colorado grant the town received for restoration efforts there.

John Cullen saw first-hand the damage the festival left behind in Nederland. “I was there the Monday after last year's festival, and it looked like a war zone,” he said.

But Cullen is also a longtime Frozen Dead Guy Days fan, and one who, as a facility owner himself, realized he was in a position to keep the festival afloat. When Cullen learned of the demise of Frozen Dead Guy Days, he was moved to purchase it from Mosely Martin. “I thought that would be a tragic loss for Colorado,” he said.

Cullen owns the storied Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, which has its own eerie history that he realized just might complement the macabre and quirky ethos of Frozen Dead Guy Days.

“And that helps keep [the festival] weird. And this festival has to maintain its core weirdness or otherwise it doesn't need to exist. At the Stanley we do weird well.”
John Cullen, owner of the Stanley Hotel and Frozen Dead Guy Days

According to Cullen, Estes Park is better equipped than Nederland to handle the influx of crowds who come for the festival. “Estes Park was designed as a tourist based economy – ever since 1894, it was built for the sole purpose of welcoming visitors,” he said. “Nederland is very much a wonderful residential town and none of the infrastructure was designed to handle that kind of load.”

The event will make its Estes Park debut next March. But the celebrated frozen body that started it all will remain in Nederland.

“Grandfather's body is - I wouldn't say is technically a resident [of Nederland]. But right now, the plan is to keep Grandpa right where he is.” Cullen said, adding “I don't know what the tourism opportunity is for traveling, but I would certainly welcome Grandpa if he walked into the concert.”

I am the Rural and Small Communities Reporter at KUNC. That means my focus is building relationships and telling stories from under-covered pockets of Colorado.
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