The Story

Back in 1849, during the same week of the year as the Rio Frio Ice Fest, John C. Fremont’s 4th Expedition was in its most desperate state in the area that became Alamosa.  After a lost battle with deep snow in the mountains north of present day South Fork, where the 33 men in the party lost every one of their 120 mules, they decided to retreat to Taos, NM. 

As they eked along the Rio Grande through the San Luis Valley, men started to die.  Of the 12 who died, 7 died in Alamosa County.  Finally, an expedition member who had gone ahead for help, Alexis Godey, returned with provisions that kept the remaining men alive.  

The Fremont Party was in the Alamosa area Jan. 22-31, 1849 and Godey arrived on the 28th.  One journal even says , “…we kept (walking) upon the ice down the middle of the river…”.   THE FIRST RIO FRIO PARTICIPANTS!  The event is actually 167 years old!


The Race

In the spirit of highly popular coffin races, two teams of seven will compete at a time side by side; 4 who carry 2 ‘dead bodies’ (without coffins - Fremont didn't have them) starting on the frozen Rio Grande River.  While they are traveling south as fast as they can, the 7th team member is the savior, Alexis Godey, who races north to save the day.  Godey is weighted down with a 30 lb pack and leads 2 animals - of any kind (except maybe elephants, they might be a little heavy for the ice).

When they meet, the final task is for Godey to give a package of graham crackers to the starving sixsome.  They need to eat them all and show a judge 6 clear pallets before a raised flag stops the clock!  The two fastest teams will then go head to head the championship race. 

A fun part of coffin races is always the pre-race parade to show off each team's themed costumes.  The Fremont Haunt Parade will take place on the oval trail around Cole Park.


The Rules

  1. The ‘dead bodies’ can be carried by hands and feet, over the shoulder or with the aid of materials available to the 1849 Fremont Party, ie branches, rope, cloth, etc.  No wheels, boards, sleds, metal, plastic, animals (Fremont’s had all died by then) allowed.  Use of materials are subject to approval of Fremont Party re-enactors.
  2. Teams must supply a pack no lighter than 30 lbs (will be weighed), and 2 animals of any kind (elephants might be a little heavy for the ice).  Animals must be on a leash of some kind and need to run on their own; they can’t be carried or helped, and must not be treated in a cruel manner.
  3. In the event that the ice on the river is not safe, a race course will be set up in Cole Park.

…we kept (walking) upon the ice down the middle of the river…
— Alexis Godey, Jan. 22-31, 1849