This Quirky Festival Celebrates a Frozen Dead Man
With coffin races and brain freeze competitions.
A group of pallbearers dressed in pink tights and helmets race through an obstacle course of snow and hay bales, all while holding up a casket containing a person who is, in fact, still alive. They are participating in a coffin race, one of many strange events to take place during perhaps Colorado’s quirkiest annual festival: Frozen Dead Guy Days. The fest is held during a full moon in March to celebrate a cryogenically frozen Norwegian dead man known as Grandpa.
Along with three heated super tents where more than 30 live bands perform, the three day long celebration features some of the wildest contests around, including frozen turkey bowling, human foosball, frozen T-shirt contents, and costumed polar plunges.
After being one of the state’s first Covid-19 cancellations in 2020, Frozen Dead Guy Days (FDGD) is back this year to celebrate its 21st anniversary on March 17-19 in a new location: the small mountain town of Estes Park.
And nothing about this festival is ordinary.
“There is a good story behind this, one that stretches from Norway to California to Colorado, involving cryonics, deportation, psychics, celebrations, and a dedicated Ice Man,” former FDGD organizer Teresa Warren wrote on the festival’s website. “It’s a tale that has captured international attention and sparked a must-attend annual event called Frozen Dead Guy Days.”
How did a cryogenically frozen guy end up in Colorado?
So what is this tale? Well, it begins in 1989 in Norway. That is when Bredo Morstoel, a Norwegian public official, also known as “Grandpa,” passed away from a heart condition. After his death he was not buried; instead his grandson Trygve Bauge, who lived in Nederland, had his body shipped to the Trans Time cryonics facility in Oakland, California. There he was placed in liquid nitrogen for close to four years.
Bauge and his mother Aud Morstoel were both strong advocates for cryonics and hoped to start a facility of their own one day. During the time Grandpa was being preserved in California, Bauge constructed his own cryonics chamber inside a Tuff Shed in Nederland. The shed was designed to withstand all sorts of natural and manmade disasters, and in 1993 Bauge moved his grandfather to Colorado.
For a few years, all was good. Bauge kept his grandfather frozen with hundreds of pounds of dry ice in his sarcophagus, surrounded by foam padding, a tarp, and blankets. But then Bauge, who was not a US citizen, overstayed his visa and was deported back to Norway.
Shortly afterwards, his mother Aud, who had taken over the duties of keeping the ice man frozen, was evicted for living in a house with no electricity or plumbing.
“Aud was about to head back to Norway. (But) this meant that the family’s fledgling cryonics facility was destined to come to a halt,” Warren wrote.
Worried that her father would thaw in her absence, and unsure if it was even legal to keep bodies frozen in the town, Aud spoke to a local reporter, who spoke to the Nederland City Council. The council ended up passing a municipal code that forbid keeping frozen bodies, but agreed to grandfather Bredo in, allowing him to stay.
How to take care of a icy dead man
After a new law was created thanks to Grandpa Bredo Morstoel, Bauge then took out a classified ad searching for a new caretaker for his grandfather. Bo Shaffer answered the ad and, in 1995, began caring for Bredo. Every two weeks Bauge would send him money to purchase around 1,600 pound of dry ice, enough to keep Grandpa frozen at a steady -60 degrees Fahrenheit.
“He also gave tours to investigators, filmmakers, local volunteers and even psychics who have purported to communicate with the dearly departed,” Warren reports. “By one account, Bredo is amused by the fuss, but doing fine.”
Shaffer was eventually replaced by Nederland resident Brad Wickham, who moved to the mountain town in hopes of connecting with nature and starting a new career. Today, he takes pride in his job, hauling dry ice up the hill and tucking Grandpa into it.
“He takes pride in this responsibility,” Warren continues. “He is committed to Grandpa’s preservation and possible reanimation.”
Celebrate death and nerve-numbing ice competitions
In 2002, Nederland decided to name its winter festival Frozen Dead Guy Days in honor of the town’s most famous resident. Bauge wholly endorses this, calling it the “Cryonics’ first Mardi Gras.” None of the funds go to preserving Grandpa, but it’s the thought that counts. With the exception of a two year break during the pandemic, the festival has been held every year since.
“For a town like Nederland that thrives on the colorful, offbeat, and weird, Frozen Dead Guy Days is a fitting way to end the short days of winter and head into the melting snows of spring,” Warren wrote.
Current co-owner and co-event coordinator of Frozen Dead Guy Days, Sarah Martin, agrees. “The last 24 months have been challenging,” she says. “We present this year’s celebration with gratitude in the spirit of resurrection, which is exactly what Grandpa had in mind.”
Taking place over three days, festival goers can purchase day passes to the musical performances on Friday and Saturday, including the Blue Ball for $30 at the door ($25 online) or a VIP three-day, all-access pass for $175. The Blue Ball will be held Friday night and features three live bands and a silent disco. Participants will also be given an “officially sanctioned acre on the moon” from lunarland.com.
Pretty much everything is frozen-themed. There’s a Brain Freeze Contest, where participants chug icy drinks as fast as possible (and the crowd gets to enjoy the resulting facial expressions). During the Frozen T-shirt Contest, contestants attempt to be the first to pull on the chilled garment. Frozen Turkey Bowling is pretty much what it sounds like: chucking frosted poultry at bowling pins. Whereas Frozen Fix a Flat entails plunging one's hands into ice water for one minute before attempting to fix a deflated bicycle tire.
Outdoor events like the polar plunge or coffin races are held in different locations around town and are free to watch. You’ll also find ice carving competitions, documentary screenings, and some pretty creative costume interpretations of what a frozen dead man would look like.