This week, as it has every year since 1963, the town of Breckenridge will begin its annual tribute to the Norse god of winter with the 51st Ullr Fest, a celebration of cold and snow and everything that makes living in the mountains superior to living anywhere else.
The tradition begins with the crowning of the Ullr Fest king and queen on Sunday, Jan. 5, followed by a Family Snow Day at the Breckenridge Nordic Center, the Ullympics, the newly minted Breck’s Got Talent competition, a film festival, the Ullr Fest parade and bondfire, a pond hockey tournament and more.
Whether you’re burning skis in the bonfire or participating in the world-record attempt at the longest shot ski, Ullr Fest is a chance to don a furry coat and horned helmet, embrace your inner Viking and join Breckenridge in its annual snow dance.
Hail to the king and queen
Len and Mary Hoffius were named the 2014 Ullr king and queen for their dedicated service to the Breckenridge community. A semi-retired attorney, Len volunteers as a guest service ambassador at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Mary serves as a board member for the Backstage Theatre and a long-time volunteer for the Summit County Animal Shelter and the Breckenridge Resort Chamber Ambassadors. She said she was truly taken aback when she found out she and Len had been chosen for the honor.
“I was thrilled because I’ve been going to Ullr festivals for years, before I was a local out here,” she said. “It was a dream come true.”
The Hoffiuses have been coming to Ullr Fest off and on since 1991 and moved to Summit County full time about nine years ago, Mary said.
“My husband and I are involved in the Cowboy Shootout — the Western shootout in the Fourth of July parade every year in Breck — we do that,” Mary said. “And I’m an ambassador for Breck, so I volunteer for Oktoberfest, Ullr, snow sculptures, Mardi Gras, the lighting of Breck — as an ambassador, I volunteer and am involved in almost every event that goes along all year.”
Ullr Fest is an event to look forward to every year because it’s so creative and crazy, Mary said, especially the parade.
“Anything goes as far as the floats at the costumes, and people get very excited about an event that unless you’ve visited here or are from here, you don’t know about it. I think it’s a great community involvement event. I adore the parade and all of the activities.”
Mary said Ullr Fest is a significant tradition for Breckenridge.
“I think it’s important because there’s a lot of visitors who come and plan their ski trip around Ullr because it’s a very unique and fun event,” she said. “I think it’s part of Breck’s heritage.”
Last year at Ullr Fest, two longtime locals — Kristian Slaugh and Litch Polich, of Breckenridge Distillery — put their heads together to come up with an Ullr-worthy accomplishment: constructing the world’s largest continuous shot ski and assembling the world’s biggest group of people taking shots from it in unison.
Though Guinness doesn’t acknowledge records dealing with alcohol, Breckenridge claimed the title of world-record shot ski with 313-plus feet of skis and 192 people partaking of Breckenridge Distillery’s world-famous elixir in the form of a special Ullr Fest-inspired spearmint schnapps. In the months following the feat, two rival resorts emerged to contend for the shot-ski crown. The first, Sundown Mountain Ski Resort in Dubuque, Iowa, boasted a 655-plus foot, 350-plus person shooter in March, soon outdone by Fernie Alpine Resort in British Columbia with its 769-plus foot, 520-person menagerie in April.
“We weren’t super excited about it,” Polich said about learning that last year’s Ullr Fest record had been broken. “But it kind of fueled us a little bit more to continue this and keep breaking it as long as we have to, and we like a good rivalry. It would be kind of fun if someone breaks it every year and we have to keep doing it every year. It’s kind of drives us.”
Undaunted by the logistics of assembling an even bigger shot ski — “We kind of wanted to go from stoplight to stoplight,” Polich said — Breckenridge will again vie for the top spot on Thursday, Jan. 9, immediately before the parade on Main Street. Polich said the distillery is still collecting skis and has opened up pre-registration on its website for those who want to participate. New this year, a $5 donation will be required to secure your spot on the ski line.
“We thought we would make it more of a fundraiser this year, so we can donate something back,” Polich said. “We charged everybody five bucks, and we’re helping out the Breckenridge Rotary Club.”
Registration also will be available starting at noon prior to the parade at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge, where pre-registered participants will be carded and given wristbands and their cups to participate.
“We really don’t know how many people are going to show up,” Polich said. “We’re going to have a shot ski regardless, and we’re collecting skis right now, which we’re really trying to put a push on. If we’re one person more and one foot more, we’re going to be happy. We’d love to crush it, but we’re looking for a ton of support from the town and people from Breckenridge, Summit County and everywhere else. I think Ullr Fest is about having a good time and people coming together and celebrating Breckenridge and the ski area and all that good stuff, and what’s more fun than a bunch of people getting together on the street and drinking a shot together and breaking a record in the name of Ullr?”
“We thought we would make (the shot ski) more of a fundraiser this year.”