John Gregory has attended every Ullr Fest since moving to Summit County 33 years ago. Like many locals, he cherishes the 53-year-old town of Breckenridge tradition of celebrating the god of winter for his gift of snow. His wife, Susan, has been to almost as many herself, only sacrificing attendance to partake in parent-teacher conferences when her children were still in school. The town has rewarded their Ullr spirit and commitment to the community by honoring them with Ullr King and Queen status this year after a nomination by their employees at Gregory Door and Window. Ullr Fest will commence with four days of festivities on Wednesday, Jan. 13.
A TIME HONORED-TRADITION
With more than three decades of festivals under his belt, John said that the tradition hasn’t changed all that much over the years.
“It’s a little bigger and a little more grand, but the attitude is exactly the same,” he said.
The party started back in 1963, and, although Susan agrees with John that the attitude hasn’t changed much, she said it’s slightly tamer, as women aren’t allowed to be topless these days.
Breckenridge locals lobbied the town council to start “Ullr Dag” more than five decades ago, forming traditions throughout the years that continue to this day. One tradition that started at Ullr Fest, the snow sculpting competition, was so popular that it is now its own event — the Budweiser International Snow Sculpture Championships — which takes place later this month.
“One of the things that I love about this event is that Ullr Fest is so organic and unique to Breckenridge,” said Rachel Zerowin with the Breckenridge Tourism Office. “It’s really the community, the creativity with the floats and their willingness to hang out all week in Viking horns that makes this event so special. It started with the founders of the ski resort in a very natural way, and the community has just carried that tradition on, and I think that’s one of the things that makes Ullr Fest so special.”
WHAT’S ON THE SCHEDULE
Although some traditions have come and gone, the parade is a mainstay and is considered by many the highlight of the week. A combination of businesses and individuals come together to create floats to carry partygoers down the parade route. There are some that participate in the parade year-after-year.
“You gotta love the guy in the pink one-piece who always comes out with the ‘pray for snow’ sign,” Zerowin said.
On Wednesday, Ullr Fest begins with the Breck Ascent Series mountain ski race, and, at 6:30 p.m., John and Susan will be crowned at the Riverwalk Center before the Breck’s Got Talent event.
On Thursday, the Fat Bike Eliminator — new this year — will showcase the sport that is rising in popularity.
“I think fat biking in Breckenridge is something that there’s always been a set of people who have been into,” Zerowin said. “What’s great about the community is that we’ve made it really open and accessible — from Breck Bike Guides to the opening of trails at the Gold Run Nordic Center. It’s not something that just a few hardcore people do — it’s really become an accessible activity. So what’s nice about the Eliminator is there is a chance for people before the parade … to see these bikes in action. It’s an invite-only event, so it’s people who can ride their bicycles really fast.”
On Friday night, at the Ullr Bike event, there will be a race at the Gold Run Nordic Center and also a chance to demo a fat bike for free.
Right before the parade, Breckenridge Distillery will attempt to break the record of longest shotski again. Last year, the shotski had 777 participants, spanning 1,250 feet down Main Street. To participate in the shotski, register for $5 at the Riverwalk Center starting at noon, with proceeds benefitting the Breckenridge Mountain Rotary.
After the parade, a bonfire will be held from 5-7 p.m. The tradition of a bonfire returns after going away for a few years, and Ullr royalty, John and Susan, said it is one of their favorite events other than the parade. They enjoy getting together with other locals after the parade and warming up by the fire. Although John can’t remember exact temperatures of the coldest Ullr Fest he’s attended, “I can remember girls in bikinis turning pretty purple.”
New this year, the Ullr Ice Plunge will take place Friday, Jan. 15, for those brave enough to jump into the icy waters of Maggie Pond. Registration for this event is free, and participants will receive a free hot lunch provided by Quandary Grill. There will also be a heated changing room and a hot tub, provided by Affordable Mountain Hot Tubs, open to anyone willing to accept the challenge.
“We wanted to mix a chilly New Year’s tradition with the fun atmosphere of Breckenridge, and the Ullr Ice Plunge was born,” said Breckenridge Tourism Office events manager Gavin Dalgliesh. “The timing, the vibe, the temperatures — everything about Ullr Fest seemed like a great fit for this new event, and it gives us some new action for Friday.”
The Ullympics are back on Saturday, and registration is free to participate in group ski racing, a ski boot relay and more.
One of the longest-standing events in the town, Ullr Fest brings four days worth of entertainment.
“It is Breckenridge’s version of a town-wide snow dance, so at the heart of it, we are really just trying to show a little love to Ullr, who we hope will bring more snow to slopes of Breckenridge.”