follow us:
Shoulders of Giants is closed. Click here for more information
Adventure, Alpine / March 19, 2017

Inside America’s coldest, deadest race

Written by: Brad Shannon

Nederland, Colorado didn’t choose to host a frozen corpse in a Tuff Shed. That decisions was made by Trygve Bauge, a Norwegian national who used dry ice to construct a makeshift cryogenic freezer for his deceased grandfather, Bredo Morstoel.

But when Trygve was deported in 1994 for overstaying his visa, the people of the eccentric mountain town did make a choice. They chose to take on the care of Bredo’s corpse, appointing an “ice man” to deliver fresh batches of dry ice every two weeks. And they built a party around it—the annual Frozen Dead Guy Days festival draws “Frostafarians” from across the state for a three-day celebration of all things cold and dead.

FDGD’s signature event is a coffin race, in which costumed teams of six pallbearers carry a “coffin” they’ve constructed, with a rider/”corpse” weighing at least 75 pounds inside, through an obstacle course. The object is to complete the course by sliding, rolling, dragging, or carrying the coffin, without dropping it.

“This is our 16th year, and we’ve had as many as 47 teams,” said FDGD organizer Stephanie Andelman. “Depending on the weather, we have five to ten thousand spectators.”


Inexperienced coffin race teams are often surprised by the demands of the short course. Photo courtesy of Frozen Dead Guy Days.

In addition to the coffin races, FDGD hosts a polar plunge (shown above), a frozen salmon toss, and a host of other cold-themed activities. Photo courtesy of Frozen Dead Guy Days.

The course, designed by organizers to be dynamic, fun and challenging, includes obstacles like balance beams, hills, hula hoops, and pools of water. Teams square off two at a time and race head-to-head on a short, rugged loop in single-elimination heats.

Good sportsmanship is required, and poor behavior is grounds for disqualification. Anyone obviously intoxicated is not permitted to participate. Costumes and themes are not only allowed, but are encouraged. Teams have raced in speedos, kilts, lucha libre masks, hazmat suits and other interesting wardrobe choices.

“For the audience, it’s fun, quick competition,” Andelman said. “Each race is around 45 seconds, there are narrow sections where teams bump into each other, coffins break, and teams come up with some really fun, creative themes and costumes. It’s an hour or more of hilarious entertainment.”

This year was Kelli Starbuck’s first race. “It’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever done in my life, and so much fun,” she said.

She was part of what she described as a “hodge-podge team” called Dying of Thirst. Their coffin was a beer barrel donated to them that, in retrospect, Starbuck noted was “a mistake” because of its weight.

As a racer, Starbuck described her team’s two heats as “kind of a blur. The starting gun went off, and a minute later we were back and somehow made it through. For a bunch of first-timers, we did alright. We won our first race, then lost our second, but we had a blast.”

Prizes are awarded to the top three teams, with just $100 to the winners and $50 to the runners-up. Fifty dollar prizes are also given for best team theme and most spirited team.

To participate in next year’s race in March, keep an eye on the FDGD website and Facebook page for festival dates, entry deadlines, etc.

Coffin racing isn’t your thing? Join in on the fun through a variety of other activities, including a fat tire bike race, human foosball, beard competition, frozen t-shirt contest, salmon toss, polar plunge, ice carving, frozen turkey bowling, a rocky mountain oyster eating contest, and more. Or just come out to gawk and take in the fun, music, food, drink and atmosphere.

Do you run or promote an event you’d like us to feature? Pitch it to us at [email protected].

about the author

Brad Shannon

Brad Shannon is a cyclist, runner, triathlete; soccer coach, player and referee; gear / gadget lover; and storyteller. He’s a fan of dogs and the weather and craft beer scene in northern Colorado. His current favorite item is his 3D-printed Inconel bottle opener.

read more
hit the outdoors

Sign up for the inside scoop on new products, member discounts and inspiration from our giants.