“Real fun” was the theme of my time in Breckenridge. Our hostel group spent Thursday, January 14th at Beaver Creek—the resort we’d all voted on the night before. Just like the previous day, Mountain Man took off with the others and Sandra and I did our own thing for the day.
That evening, our hostel group attended the nightly merriments of Ullr Fest. This is Breckenridge’s homage to the ancient Norse god, Ullr (pronounced OO-lur). Although what exactly Ullr represents is uncertain, the people of Breckenridge allege that he is “the Norwegian snow god,” who, according to legend, “was so well skilled in the use of the bow and could go so fast on his skis that in these arts no one could best him.” Breck’s adaptation of the legend posits that if you celebrate Ullr, he will bring you pow as soft as butter.
Breck’s festival started on January 13th in 2016 and ended on the 16th. We didn’t go out on the 13th, so we missed the crowning of the Ullr King and Queen, but on the 14th, we got to experience what is perhaps the most iconic, rowdiest part of the celebration: the bonfire.
The bonfire is a massive assemblage of tourists, transients, and permanent residents in the gondola parking lot for the resort (at least, that’s where it was in 2016). These people bring things that they don’t need or want anymore—and those more in-line with tradition bring their Christmas trees—and pile them up in the middle of the lot. The whole thing is set aflame and fenced off, and people come in droves to surround the blaze, all dressed in Viking attire—horned helmets, furs, shields, armor, fur and leather bikinis, pretty much anything remotely Viking-like—all dancing, shouting, hooting and hollering. Most are good and smashed at that point. There is music, purportedly provided by a local DJ, but I don’t remember seeing any such person; I remember the music, pulsing up into the night, and I remember the drunk dancers, but the area gets so crowded that it’s impossible to see anything but helmet horns and fire.
I was definitely “good and smashed” by the time we were at the bonfire. We had walked there from the hostel, and on the way back, we stopped to pick up our New-Zealander buddy from his shift at an old bar on the outskirts of town. I walked with Sandra on the way back. Mountain Man walked between the New-Zealander and an American dude with his arms wrapped around their shoulders.
Ullr Fest was the most memorable experience I’d had thus far on the Colorado trip. Seeing so many strangers dancing, laughing, being goofy and awesome together was reviving, comforting. The ski-bum community could be welcoming, I realized. My “personal ski bum” had only revealed to me a narrow, judgmental vein, in which, or so it seemed, very few ski bums actually resided. I began to conspire that Mountain Man just might be the worst representative of the ski-bum culture a noobie could’ve stumbled upon, and I had worshipped him as if he were Ullr himself.