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Estes coming alive for Frozen Dead Guy Days

ESTES PARK — Estes Park this week is bracing for something it hasn’t seen before: an influx of tens of thousands of people at a time of year when the town usually is — and there’s no other way to say it — pretty dead.

Frozen Dead Guy Days, the quirky festival that sprang from tales of a Norwegian man’s cryogenically frozen corpse in a Tuff-Shed above Nederland, is making its Estes Park debut this weekend, and its promoters at Visit Estes Park are dead-set on making it all work.

“I knew we could pull this off,” said Kara Franker, the tourism-promotion agency’s CEO who is more used to the balmy climes of Florida, where she had directed Visit Fort Lauderdale. “I just can’t believe this is happening in 2½ days.”

Visit Estes Park and the iconic Stanley Hotel, which has profited from the macabre for decades because of its reported ghost sightings and its role in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 psychological horror film “The Shining,” teamed up in December to rescue the festival that had been staged since 2002 in Nederland, a month after its owners and organizers there announced that they were canceling it. John Cullen, the Stanley’s owner, leaped in to purchase the festival and move it — and then he and Visit Estes Park realized they had only three months to make it work.

“It’s been a logistical challenge to put together such a large festival in such a short time, but we have an incredible team,” Franker said. “Working with John Cullen has been excellent; this wouldn’t have happened without him.

“We have so much appreciation for the people in Nederland and want to pay homage to what they started,” she said, but noted that the reason it left the tiny Boulder County mountain town was that throngs of more than 20,000 people overwhelmed the village’s resources.

“That’s why we want to keep it manageable,” Franker said.

For this first attempt, Visit Estes Park is limiting the number of tickets being sold and coming up with detailed plans for parking and crowd control.

“When we were first creating this trajectory, we did it in tiers,” she said. “Whenever you do something for the first time, it’ll take a few years to build up. We’re not necessarily looking for a huge impact this year, but at least a nice bump for our ‘shoulder season.’

“We’re working with our fire district and law-enforcement partners, and our indoor venues do have a maximum capacity,” she said. “That’s why we picked some regional bands this time to fill the Events Complex. Next year, we want to build outdoor stages” so the festival can attract bigger-name acts and bigger crowds.

What if more people show up than they expect? 

“We’re carefully monitoring ticket sales and only selling the amount we have capacity for,” Franker said, “but if more people come, we can direct them to bars, restaurants and hiking. That’s what this town is about.”

One of the logistical issues, Franker said, was to make sure hotels, restaurants and bars had sufficient staffing to handle the crowds at a time of year when most need only skeleton crews – so to speak — if they’re open at all.

“We had a community meeting where we told our businesses, ‘Hey, you might want to staff up.’ We took it upon ourselves to press everyone,” she said. “If they didn’t have the staff, they had to go out and make that work.”

Another is traffic disruptions that could happen because parts of Elkhorn Avenue, the main street through the business district, are torn up as work begins on the one-way Downtown Estes Loop project. That’s why the festival’s coffin races will be held on a track outside the events center instead, and a haunted house will be constructed inside.

Most important, Franker said, is that “we’re still keeping the quirkiness.”

The Polar Plunge will happen in the Big Thompson River. Events such as the Newlydead Game, a Frostbite Fashion Show and a “brain freeze” ice-cream eating contest have been added to the usual frozen T-shirt contests, and the Grandpa’s Blue Ball dance will be held at the Stanley. A list of events is at

Lumpy Ridge Brewing Co. has produced a Frozen Dead Guy beer, and one consignment store is even offering custom-made toe tags and coroner’s certificates for attendees. Ten different bands will play at 10 different venues.

The festivities will kick off — so to speak — with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday night at Bond Park and speeches by Cullen and Mayor Wendy Koenig.

Franker tapped an old Florida contact, Vaughan Freeman from Bosco Events, who helped her throw a beach festival in Fort Lauderdale. “I know he can pull off working with local event producers,” she said. “He’s done events in Los Angeles, New York and Miami. He’s somebody who’s very professional, and in it for the long haul too.”

Adam Shake, CEO of the Estes Park Economic Development Corp., said his group has not done projections about what economic impact the festival could have.

“We’ll be post-active,” he said. “It’s a little hard to tell this time until after the event’s over. But the hotels do seem to be filling up, and at least we know we’ll be above this time of year in all categories.

“We’ll use this year’s numbers to see where we’re at for next year,” he said. “Then we’ll look forward to years two through five and see where this thing goes as we move forward. I would love to see this develop into something of the magnitude of the Rooftop Rodeo or the Scottish-Irish Festival.”

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 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 of Nederland does have a law against such things, but according to the festival’s website, Morstoel was “grandfathered in.”

But now the event has shifted to Estes Park, and as Franker noted when the announcement of the move was made, “We’re not stealing the festival. We’re resurrecting it.”

Source: BizWest