The first big snowfalls in my home state mark a season of celebration, not only with the onset of traditional November and December holidays, but with some truly unique and entertaining festivals that bring out the quirky in anyone who attends—locals and visitors alike. If you’re heading to Colorado this winter, consider getting your wacky on at one of these beloved longtime events.
Frozen Dead Guy Days: Nederland, March 11–13, 2016
The granddaddy of all nutty events is Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland, an hour northwest of Denver. The festival celebrates a Norwegian immigrant grandfather who passed away in 1989 and has, quite literally, been packed on ice in a cryogenic state in a shed above Nederland for more than two decades (read the full history here). With activities like a coffin race, icy-turkey bowling, salmon toss, frozen T-shirt challenge, icy-grandpa lookalike contest, and Rocky Mountain oyster-eating competition, the scene is both morbid and bizarre. Also on tap are karaoke, live music, and plenty of craft beer.
Ullr Fest: Breckenridge, January 13–16, 2016
Costumed participants at Frozen Dead Guy Days
In January, the ski town of Breckenridge pays homage to the Norse god Ullr, known for his stellar skiing abilities, in the hopes that he will bless the slopes with plenty of snow. Don your Viking hat to watch the big event, a lively parade of entertaining snow-themed floats, make its way down Main Street.
Anyone over the age of 21 can participate in a highly synchronized attempt to drink from the world’s longest ski shot. That’s 300-plus skis connected together in one long line, with shot glasses full of liquor attached and downed simultaneously (see photo from Breckenridge Tourism Office above). Then there are the “Ullympics” with a frying-pan toss and ski-boot relay. Ullr Fest is a much-anticipated Breckenridge celebration that has taken place annually for more than 50 years.
Snowdown: Durango, January 27–31, 2016
Porta-potty stuffing (to see how many people can fit in one stall), bed races (pushing participants in beds through a downtown obstacle course, Spam™ carving, feline fashion shows, and broomball on ice are only a handful of the more than 100 zany events typically held during Snowdown, a five-day festival that began in the 1970s to help residents beat the post-holiday January doldrums. Today, there are goofy contests, games of chance, and competitions of skill for all ages, from a preschool dance party to chilly beer plunges (dunking in a baby pool filled with beer in frigid outdoor temperatures).
Skijoring and Crystal Carnival: Leadville, March 4–6, 2016
Competitive skijoring involves being pulled on skis by a horse and rider down a snow-packed road. It sounds like a load of fun to fly through town on a pair of skis, but there’s skill involved, too: The skier must take some jumps and spear rings in this timed race. In fact, competitive teams come from all over the country to compete.
The Skijoring and Crystal Carnival has taken place in high-altitude Leadville (which sits at more than 10,000 feet) since 1949. The family-friendly event features a community pancake breakfast, paintball biathlon, free sledding on a local hill, live music, and dancing (typically at the Elks Lodge), and kids can even try skijoring behind a snowmobile.
Viewfinder Tip: Wear sunscreen on your face if you’re going to be at any outdoor winter event in Colorado. The sun is strong in this high-altitude state.
Slush cups: various ski resorts, spring
“Pond skimming” or “slush cups” are typically held on the final weekend of the ski season in April at several ski resorts in Colorado, including Keystone, Aspen/Snowmass, Steamboat Springs, Vail, and Crested Butte. Sure, these events aren’t technically wacky “winter” festivals since they take place after the spring equinox, but they’re worth a mention because they typically bring out the most spirited spring-skiing enthusiasts—those who aren’t afraid to don a gorilla costume, full business suit, or speedo to ski down a small hill and then launch themselves across a small body of water and potentially splash headfirst into a chilly mess of slush. Spectators enjoy applauding successful pond skims, admiring crazy costumes, and raising a glass to another fun winter of outdoor activity in Colorado.
Where does your favorite winter festival take place?
Header image courtesy of Breckenridge Tourism Office.