Hospitality & Tourism  February 5, 2020

Collaboration breathes new life into Dead Guy Days

NEDERLAND — A quirky festival that some had given up for dead is getting set to again welcome tens of thousands of people to this Boulder County mountain village, thanks to a new partner and more collaboration with town officials.

The 19th 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 on March 13-15, complete with its signature coffin races, frozen t-shirt competitions and a dance called “Grandpa’s Blue Ball.”

This year’s festival is on more stable — albeit snowy — ground after Amanda Macdonald, who owned FDGD LLC, which includes the festival’s events and branding, brought in longtime friend and professional event planner Sarah Moseley Martin as a partner. Martin acquired 60 percent of the business last fall and is excited about her expanded role in the planning.

Before last year’s event, Macdonald had told BizWest that she wanted out because of all the work it took as well as financial liability. The festival had been a project of the local chamber of commerce, where Macdonald worked as events coordinator, but she had agreed to shoulder the responsibility of keeping it going after the chamber folded — and all the work was getting to be too much.

“Amanda and I have known each other for many years,” said Martin, who is helping the Krewe of Orpheus get ready for New Orleans’ annual Mardi Gras. “My involvement with Dead Guy Days began when I went to a sale in east Boulder County and found a cryogenics machine. They gave it to me for free, and I took it to Amanda. We ended up working really well together — and so when she called me up, I was happy to help. It’s also great that this is a women-owned company.

“We’re not hugely funded by any stretch, but we really want to preserve this really wonderful, whimsical story for Colorado.”

“She’s been a fantastic partner, especially given her work in the music industry,” Macdonald said of Martin. “She’s taken on so many tasks and brought in great people.”

Reports that the festival’s future was clouded also spurred the town to offer more support, especially given that Frozen Dead Guy Days generates at least $2 million in tax revenue during what otherwise would be an off season for tourism, and given that Nederland had lost another event called NedFest.

“The town definitely is putting a lot more work into the support and the planning,” Macdonald said. She and Martin both credited Town Clerk Miranda Fisher for her help in facilitating the event.

“Miranda has looked back through the past and helped us keep the good things going,” Martin said. “She sees the bigger picture — that this is one of the top 10 cultural festivals in the United States, and has a great value. She has a comprehensive view of civic communication and consequential thought. She’s been great in helping us cross our Ts, dot our Is and open dialogue with the town.”

For instance, the town has developed a barricade pass for residents impacted by street closures.

“This year has been very collaborative,” Fisher said. “All the departments are working side by side with the organizers. We’ve created a package for anyone who wants to hold an event with more than 2,000 attendees, and outlined how they can work with our zero-waste ordinances. We’ve also done an assessment of town parking, and now have a document we can share with festival organizers about how they can park up to 1,000 cars in Nederland — at least on paper. We’ll see how it works.”

Macdonald said a Downtown Development Authority study figured that every dollar spent at the festival changes hands five to seven times. “The festival hires a sound company, sanitation, security — and the bands and bartenders are all local,” she said, describing the people pitching in to help make the festival a success as “A-Teams inside A-Teams.” 

“We want people to come and participate. That’s what makes it fun,” she said. “We do need a few more coffin-race teams, though.”

The festival is bringing back the Frozen Salmon Toss this year, along with a “ghost guest piano” for visitors to play and better prizes for the Dead Poets poetry slam. More than 30 live bands have been booked, and a new inflatable human foosball court has been added, with proceeds earmarked for Nederland Middle School.

This year’s theme for Grandpa’s Blue Ball will be “A Cosmically Frozen Affair,” with attire for attendees being “mountain frosty formal.”

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, California, 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 starting 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.

Festival organizers again 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.

 

NEDERLAND — A quirky festival that some had given up for dead is getting set to again welcome tens of thousands of people to this Boulder County mountain village, thanks to a new partner and more collaboration with town officials.

The 19th 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 on March 13-15, complete with its signature coffin races, frozen t-shirt…

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