Breckenridge: The snow god’s new clothes
January 3, 2013
Ullr is a popular figure in Breckenridge. He is the Norse god of snow, bringing down his blessing upon eager skiers and snowboarders every winter. He is also the honored guest of the upcoming Ullr Fest, a weeklong celebration that takes over Breckenridge every year.
As that icon, it’s important for Ullr to look his best. In previous years, the town had rented a costume from a shop in Denver. But this is the 50th year for the festival and it was decided that a rental would no longer do. So the Breckenridge Resort Chamber crossed the street and entered Holly’s Pizzazz Boutique with a proposition for its two seamstresses – re-make the Ullr costume.
The ladies, Holly Robb and Sally Ensign, didn’t hesitate. They accepted the offer and immediately got down to business. They had exactly one month to get the costume ready.
The first step was design. In a quest for authenticity, Robb and Ensign spent time researching clothing styles of the ancient Vikings. They went through pages of sketches and ideas, trying to get it just right.
“A lot of the outfit was an experiment,” Robb said. “It changed as time went on. That’s the design process. It just kind of evolved.”
Robb and Ensign spent hours picking out the fabric for the costume. They also decided that it absolutely must have fur.
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“We said, ‘We’re not doing polar fleece or fake fur,'” said Robb.
The problem with fur is that it’s expensive, especially in the quantities needed for the Ullr outfit. Fortunately, the seamstresses were passionate about their project and that spread, to family, friends and the community. Donations of fur, in the form of stoles, jackets, coat collars and more, suddenly poured in.
Robb suspects that most of the donations were garments from the ’40s and ’50s. Many were leftovers from grandmothers and great aunts.
“That first cut is always the hard one on somebody’s fur coat,” Ensign said.
The final outfit incorporates eight different types of fur – rabbit, mink, lamb, sheepskin, fox, wolf, coyote and beaver. The different colors and styles add to the wildness of the costume, making it look less like a faux fur-lined costume and more like a mountain man’s or trapper’s outfit.
It also carries a personal touch, representing the donors. Robb herself donated to it, making the earflaps of the helmet from her father’s original Norwegian sheepskin hat. Though Robb’s family has deep roots in Summit County, their blood goes back to Norway.
“It’s a fitting tribute to my father,” Robb said.
As the outfit continued to take shape, Robb and Ensign became more enthusiastic and excited, despite the long hours of designing, cutting and sewing.
“We asked each other, ‘do you think it’s too much?'” Robb said. “‘Nah!’ He is, after all, a god. Nothing’s too much.”
After putting in nearly 100 hours of work and going through five or six fittings, the outfit was finished, and made its debut on opening day in Breckenridge.
John Forsberg, who ‘becomes’ Ullr every year, was interested to learn there would be a new costume. His main concern was that it not be “foo-foo.” In other words, not godly enough.
He needn’t have worried.
“My joke was that Ullr came in a box,” he said, referring to the old costume.
The new one, though? “It’s got character,” Forsberg said.
Ullr now makes quite an imposing figure. Fur and leather wrap his helmet, with each horn tufted in a ball of lamb fur. His cape falls down in twisty fringes, which he says moves nicely along with him as he skis. The detail is not only on the outside. Inside the coat is row after row of fshiny gray fabric, which Ensign and Robb call “dragon scale armor.” Fur wraps around his arm and leggings and he carries a bow that’s nearly as tall as Robb, complemented by a quiver full of mock arrows. In addition to his staff, he carries a round shield covered in beaver pelts and adorned with an old circular saw blade.
“It was a really fun project,” said Robb. “Everybody’s been so generous. We could not have made it as fabulous as we did without the donations.”