Frozen Dead Guy Days healthy, but prognosis unclear

NEDERLAND — A quirky annual festival is gearing up to bring tens of thousands of visitors to this town high in the mountains of Boulder County this weekend. But what happens next year is as much up in the air as a rider on a ski lift at Eldora.

Participants cheer during the coffin race at the 2018 Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland. Courtesy Grow Design

The 18th annual Frozen Dead Guy Days, which sprang from a Norwegian immigrant’s efforts to keep his deceased grandfather packed in cryogenic freeze in a Tuff Shed until future advances in medical technology might revive him, is expected to bring upward of 25,000 visitors to Nederland this Friday through Sunday. But the widow who owns the for-profit corporation that runs the festival told BizWest this week that she wants out.

“This is my last year. I’m done,” said Amanda Macdonald, who owns FDGD LLC, which includes the festival’s events and branding. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years. I’ve got to sleep at night. We don’t presell tickets, so I’m on the line for $120,000. It’s kind of scary.

“The Chamber of Commerce developed this, but then they folded,” she said on Tuesday. “I was the event coordinator, so I said, ‘I’ll keep it going.’ But now I’m getting older and wiser. I turned 47 yesterday, and I haven’t celebrated my birthday in 10 years.”

Her decision comes a month after the town found out it was losing another lucrative annual event after a 20-year run. Organizers of the NedFest music festival announced in February that they were canceling the August event and blamed renovations at the Barker Meadows Park festival site.

Macdonald, however, wants to see Frozen Dead Guy Days continue.

“I want to turn it into a nonprofit and turn it over to the town, so it remains a shared responsibility and serves the benefit of the community,” she said. “Hopefully, an organization will pick it up — or we’ll form one. I wouldn’t hand it over to a big corporation. I’d rather see it go away than that.”

Macdonald’s decision was news to Nederland Mayor Kristopher Larsen Wednesday morning, but he shared her hope that a solution can be found.

“I haven’t heard anything about that at this point,” Larsen said. “We’ve just been working hard with Amanda to make sure this is successful. We finalized the leasing contract and traffic plan last [Tuesday] night” at a town board of trustees meeting.

“Having the town take over the festival would be a huge amount of work,” he said. “We’re just a town of 1,500. We have a very small town staff, but we try to do a lot. I would not want to put this on the town staff without knowing we could bring on more people.

“It could be taken over by a nonprofit or volunteer group to keep it going,” Larsen said, noting that proceeds from NedFest were put toward music education. “I’d be a huge fan of that, especially if a nonprofit could use Frozen Dead Guy Days to benefit education, outdoor recreation, or any of the things that make Nederland Nederland.

“Dead Guy Days brings a lot of international recognition to Nederland, but it also brings a lot of people to town and creates a big impact on our residents,” he said. “This raises a lot of questions, and there’ll probably be a whole new set of meetings come April.”

What can’t be denied, however, is the shot in the arm that the festival brings to the town’s economy and sales-tax revenue.

“We had 20,000 to 25,000 visitors last year,” Larsen said. “It’s a big economic force, especially this time of season” when skiing and snowboarding at nearby Eldora Mountain Resort is starting to wind down, “and we’re in this ‘shoulder season’ before the hikers and bikers start to come up. This keeps our restaurants, gift shops and bars full in the meantime.”

Macdonald said she saw a study that indicated that “every dollar circulates seven times. The bartenders get money and then they spend money, and so on. Businesses up here say our festival is how they pay rent in this slow time of year.”

Larsen had no hard numbers to measure the revenue, however. “We’ve been trying to do a big economic study for years. We’ve never had the time or resources to do an official study, but we do see a big bump in March. Then we get another bump in June for the High Peaks Art Festival, and we used to get another one in August with NedFest.”

Larsen, who will be judging the coffin races this weekend, blamed NedFest’s departure on “a combination of unfortunate circumstances” and “misinterpretation of a grant that the town put together.”

Born in 2002, Frozen Dead Guy Days celebrates one of the weirder chapters in Colorado history — and that’s saying something in a state that introduced the world to cannibal Alferd Packer, Mike the Headless Chicken and Blucifer, the demonic-eyed horse statue that fell on and killed its sculptor at Denver International Airport.

Trygve Bauge, an advocate of cryonics and an original driving force behind an annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge at Boulder Reservoir, hoped to preserve the body of his grandfather, Bredo Morstoel, in dry ice until technological advances could be invented someday that might bring the man back to life. Morstoel died in Norway in 1989, and his body was first shipped to Oakland, Calif., where it was preserved in liquid nitrogen for four years, then to Nederland in 1993 — and packed in dry ice in a Tuff-Shed in the hills outside of town.

Bauge’s dream of opening a cryonics facility melted away when he was deported in the mid-1990s after his visa expired. Soon thereafter, Morstoel’s daughter Aud was evicted for living in a house with no plumbing or electricity. But beginning in 1995 with Bo Shaffer of Longmont and a team of volunteers, tons of dry ice have been delivered and packed around Morstoel’s sarcophagus, surrounded by foam padding, a tarp and blankets, keeping the body at a steady 60 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

The town does have a law against such things, but according to the festival’s website, Morstoel was “grandfathered in.” Fueled by similar wordplay, the media attention the story drew gave birth to Frozen Dead Guy Days and its schedule of coffin races, a polar plunge, frozen turkey bowling, frozen T-shirt contests, a parade of hearses, snowy beach volleyball, a frozen salmon toss and dancing to live music at Grandpa’s Blue Ball.

New this year, Macdonald said, is “Hot Wing Trivia” — “You have to finish the wings and answer three trivia questions to win” — and the Not Yet Dead in Ned tent, which will house artists, artisans and musicians. “Everybody running the tent is all Nederland people,” she said.

“Seventy percent of the guide I published is local advertisements. I want it to stay Nederland’s festival. With a big corporation, it turns into a beast, and I’d never want that,” she said. “It’s a funny monkey, but I think that’s what makes it special. I don’t want it to be generic; I want it to be as authentic as we can. I think that’s what resonates with people.”

The festival will feature local musicians performing in three tents, as well as beers from area breweries including Estes Park-based Lumpy Ridge, Sheridan-based Dead Hippy, Boulder-based Upslope and Loveland-based Crow Hop. The official festival beer, “Bredo’s Brew,” is being provided by Longmont-based Grossen Bart Brewery.

“It’s cryogenically brewed to preserve your spirit,” Macdonald quipped.

“It’s all teamwork, and that’s what Frozen Dead Guy Days is,” she said. “People see it as a big festival, but it’s really a bunch of local people who give their heart and soul to make it happen.

“The people I have working for me, they’re friends, and it continues through life. We have volunteers coming back five, six, seven years. We have about 120 of them. They get a shirt, drink tokens and food. I’m always amazed as people come and say, ‘What can I do?’

“Heck, I was dragging trash cans last year,” Macdonald said.

“The people who come up are so special, too,” she said. “They spend money, buy the beer, the t-shirts, and support the festival. That’s the only way we survive.”

About the only thing missing this year will be tours of the Tuff Shed. Its current caretaker, Brad Wickam, “just wanted to enjoy the festival this year,” Macdonald said.

While the festival is free, “It’s only a $20 entry fee [for the music tents],” she said, “and your money’s going right into the community.”

Citing the mountain town’s limited parking, festival organizers implore attendees to carpool, ride the Regional Transportation District’s “N” bus from the downtown Boulder terminal at 14th and Walnut streets, or use the Bus to Show private shuttle.

Parking is just one of the challenges.

“If it snows, people call and ask, ‘When do you guys cancel?’ But we don’t. We love the snow,” Macdonald said. “There’s ice on the ground. It’s a snowy festival. It unnerves me, but we’re generally safe and we’re doing what we can, but we can’t make things perfect. Everyone’s focused on liability, and we just can’t do things that are fun anymore because of it. But it’s my prayer that people be safe and have a good time. In general, we just ask people to be prepared to walk, take personal responsibility and bring their best attitude. Bring layers and a smile.”

The mayor said the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department and the Colorado Rangers will supplement the town’s three or four police officers. The Rangers are “a volunteer police force made up of retired law-enforcement officers who have maintained all their credentialing,” Larsen said. “They’re a very great organization that works really well with us. They modify their procedures to fit our town and its culture so they don’t come in here heavy handed. We’ve never had any complaints about using them.”

Macdonald said she hopes Frozen Dead Guy Days stays alive for many years to come.

“We had NedFest quit, so Nederland just has to decide if it wants to be a town that has festivals,” she said. “It has to realize, financially, the benefits it’s reaping.”

NEDERLAND — A quirky annual festival is gearing up to bring tens of thousands of visitors to this town high in the mountains of Boulder County this weekend. But what happens next year is as much up in the air as a rider on a ski lift at Eldora.

Participants cheer during the coffin race at the 2018 Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland. Courtesy Grow Design

The 18th annual Frozen Dead Guy Days, which sprang from a Norwegian immigrant’s efforts to keep his deceased grandfather packed in cryogenic freeze in a Tuff Shed until future advances in medical technology might revive him, is expected to bring upward of 25,000 visitors to Nederland this Friday through Sunday. But the widow who owns the for-profit corporation that runs the festival told BizWest this week that she wants out.

“This is my last year. I’m done,” said Amanda Macdonald, who owns FDGD LLC, which includes the festival’s events and branding. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years. I’ve got to sleep at night. We don’t presell tickets, so I’m on the line for $120,000. It’s kind of scary.

“The Chamber of Commerce developed this, but then they folded,” she said on Tuesday. “I was the event coordinator, so I said, ‘I’ll keep it going.’ But now I’m getting older and wiser. I turned 47 yesterday, and I haven’t celebrated my birthday in 10 years.”

Her decision…