Hannah Hassler photo
BY RICH PALZEWIC
If you watch pro football you’ve inevitably seen the “Frozen Tundra Man” at Lambeau Field. When the temperature dips below freezing the national icon can be recognized by his long “icicles” hanging from his face and beard.
But there’s much more to the man we all see on TV – there’s a father, an artist and a normal guy behind all that glue and preparation.
Fond du Lac native Jeff Kahlow, also known as the Frozen Tundra Man, has been entertaining thousands of fans from around the globe for years. Many of you reading this article may have gotten your picture taken with him or worn one of his hand-crafted foam hats.
“On average I do three games a year,” said Kahlow. “I wait until the temperature drops below 32 degrees. With the team doing so well in previous years, I also have done a lot of playoff games.”
Kahlow just completed his 14th year and got his inspiration years ago from a gentleman named Jimmy Kimmons, who is a remote cameraman for CBS Sports. Kimmons works with Phil Simms (and now Tony Romo) and Jim Nantz.
“The CBS crew was coming to Lambeau for a Steelers’ game and were going to do a story on me, and the foam hats that I also create for people,” Kahlow said. “He invited me to be on the sidelines, so I wanted to come up with something special for the occasion. I came up with the idea of carving a Lambeau Field foam hat and just played around with making it look frosty. I asked my wife ‘how can I stick snow crystals in my beard?’ She told me to pack Vaseline in my beard. That was my first year of Frozen Tundra man.”
Kahlow says that when he met the CBS crew for the game they were floored at what they saw. As the years went by, Jeff has evolved the outfit quite a bit – the icicles that hang from his face/beard have gotten longer and longer.
“If I would show you a picture of what I looked like my first year compared to now, it’s night and day,” he said. “I’m still adding things to it.”
Being so popular on game days has its ups and downs. Kahlow has to find that fine line of being accommodating to fans, but also respectful of those sitting by him in the stadium.
“It’s amazing – when I’m in the parking lot before the game everybody’s adrenaline is going for the game,” said Kahlow. “That’s where it’s fun – people just want to get a picture with me and it’s hilarious. I go one step forward and then take two steps back – I can’t really get very far in the parking lot without being stopped. If I can get a stretch of 20 feet without getting stopped I’m lucky. It doesn’t bother me. People tell me I should charge for pictures, but I won’t do that – that’s not why I’m here. I’m doing this as fun for myself, the fans and as a part of the Green Bay Packers.
“Inside the stadium it’s a little different. The beer man in our section loves me because he gets a lot more sales with me there. During the game people come down and keep wanting pictures with me. You have to be as nice as you can with the people sitting behind you trying to watch the game, so I ask people to wait until halftime. Most are pretty good about waiting and then after the game it’s just crazy again. I’m glad to be a part of their game-day experience at Lambeau Field.”
Kahlow says “it’s a pain in the butt” to get ready for, but he looks forward to it every year. Speaking of the process to get ready, it’s quite the chore.
The icicles are made from hot glue, so Kahlow takes the hot glue and forms the icicles with a piece of glass. Each icicle you see on his face/beard is always new and unique, meaning he doesn’t reuse them for future games. With Vaseline finding its way on the icicles it makes them too slippery to reattach again.
“Once the icicle cures, I shape it with a scissors, spray it with high-gloss varnish to give it a shine and sprinkle it with glitter,” Kahlow said. “That gives it the sparkle you see. When it’s time to adhere the icicles to my face I hot glue them to my beard or skin. It takes about an hour to apply them to my face. I have to have one coming out of my nose, too. Once they are all attached I pack Vaseline towards the top of each icicle to blend it in smooth to my face and beard. Then I pack the snow crystals over the top. My goal is to make it look as realistic as possible and make it so people can’t tell I hot glue the icicles to my face. If my face warms up during the game the Vaseline melts a little bit and gives it an even better look.”
As much work and fun as it is for Kahlow to go through the whole process, the real “pain” happens when he gets home after a long day of entertaining fans.
“It takes me two hours to get everything off, and believe me – it’s painful,” said Kahlow. “There’s a lot of eye squinting and teeth clattering. A lot of the glue is applied through the hair and onto my skin. I’ve got this small, little curved scissors that I have to get in between there and snip away. Because it’s so cold half the time I don’t know if I’m snipping my skin or the hair. I get butchered up a little bit. The worst part is I have to live a week or two with big chunks of hair missing from my beard. I look a little rough until the next game.”
With all the preparation and pain that Kahlow goes through multiple times a season, why does he continue to go through with it all?
“That’s a good question,” he said. “It’s probably just because of the love of the Packers and because I’m an artist. To come up with a creation that excites me and others, it keeps driving me to continue. I won’t do it forever – I’m 57. I told my kids that when I turn 60 it’s probably going to come to an end. I told my son Andrew that if he wants to continue on after I stop he can do that. I’m thinking for sure three years but maybe five. It just depends on my health and how I feel.”
As famous as Kahlow is with being the Frozen Tundra Man, he might be more well-known for the thousands of foam hats that he has hand-carved over the years. Jeff has been crafting unique hats for celebrities, former presidents and fans around the world for 23 years now. He did a lot of drawing and painting as a younger, and his mother was a big oil painter. The story of how Kahlow got started with that is interesting in itself.
“There was a gentleman I knew that was doing a speech for Ducks Unlimited,” Kahlow said. “He asked me to carve him a foam duck hat for his speech he was going to give. He wore it and the next day I had a message, and he placed an order for 100 duck hats. I knew I was on to something, so I approached the company I work for in Fond du Lac – Interior Systems – and asked if I could reduce my hours to 32 a week; and they allowed me to do it. Twenty-three years later I’m still working there.”
To date Kahlow has hand-carved a whopping 21,000 hats. When he first started carving it would take him three to four hours to carve one, but now he’s gotten so good at it, he has reduced that down to on average, about an hour. He will take a little longer with a hat that is going to someone famous.
“I’ve made so many hats for people over the years that I can’t even remember anymore,” said Kahlow. “Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Donald Driver, so many coaches and players of the team.”
One of the first big celebrities that Kahlow made a hat for was singer Ted Nugent who is a big deer hunter. Nugent came to Fond du Lac County Fair and wore a hat Kahlow crafted for three songs. The two eventually met and have been personal friends for 22 years now.
“Ted has opened up the door for me with numerous connections in the music world,” Kahlow said. “I’ve made hats for Willie Nelson, Toby Keith and Ringo Starr.”
Kahlow has also made hats for Tiger Woods, Harrison Ford, former President George Bush, Packers President Mark Murphy, Jay Leno, John Travolta, KISS and George Lucas to name a few. Six of Kahlow’s hats were inducted into the Packers’ Hall of Fame in 2004.
In addition, Kahlow has been on ABC’s “Shark Tank” and landed a deal with Mark Cuban. Through his creations he has become close friends with CBS and FOX Sports that cover games at Lambeau, and is invited to work three to four games a year on the sidelines.
Kahlow plans to retire from Interior Systems when he is 62 or 63, but he plans to continue carving hats well beyond that.
With being so famous and carving so many foam hats over the years one would think Kahlow would be well-off financially – not so fast!
“With having so many hats out there and being seen all over the media, people think ‘that guy must be a millionaire,’” said Kahlow. “No, I’m not rich. I don’t make a lot of money – I’m being truthful there. It’s art and I like doing it. For the first few years I created them, I don’t think I charged anybody money. People have to remember this isn’t mass production – this is one foam piece at a time with a scissors and razor knife. I have to keep working my other job.”
Kahlow has to get orders done every single day to stay on top of things. He’s booked out about four months ahead of time for his orders.
With good fortune and health, all Green Bay fans from around the world can look forward to Kahlow entertaining us for years to come as the Frozen Tundra Man!
Editor’s note: to check out Kahlow’s website on his hand-crafted foam hats, log on to bigguyhats.com.