Ullr Fest kicks off this week in Breckenridge, and the bonfire is back
The traditional Ullr Fest is returning to Breckenridge this winter, and with it comes the locals-favorite bonfire.
While it was originally looking like there would not be a bonfire this year, the Breckenridge Tourism Office scrambled at the last minute to ensure it would make a triumphant return with the rest of the festival.
The bonfire will light up from 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, at the East Sawmill Lot off Main Street in Breckenridge. With the construction of the South Gondola parking structure, the previous home of the bonfire was no longer an option.
Tourism office spokesperson Lauren Swanson wrote in an email that the events team worked with the town of Breckenridge, the Breckenridge Police Department and the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District to find an appropriate location for the bonfire just in time for the festival. She said everyone knows how much the bonfire means to the community and that “every solution was explored” so they could settle on a safe location.
Leigh Girvin, the reigning Ullr queen and a longtime Breckenridge resident, said there has always been some kind of fire element with Ullr events since the first Ullr Dag in March 1963, though it hasn’t always been a bonfire. She said that in the early days, it wasn’t as large of a fire, holding more of an “eternal flame” kind of idea.
After there was an 11-year pause on Ullr celebrations in Breckenridge because they started getting too rowdy, Girvin said Ullr Fest returned in the late ’70s alongside the bonfire, which she said was a way to make an offering to Ullr, the Norse god of snow.
“In the early days, people would burn skis, and needless to say, it was a messy puddle of melted plastic and burnt, crispy metal,” Girvin said.
The bonfires are safer and more controlled now, and while folks aren’t able to offer their old skis to Ullr anymore, the fire is usually sustained with old, dried-up Christmas trees. That won’t be possible this year now that the event has moved to early December from its traditional spot in January.
“The (bonfire) continues to be a way to make offerings to Ullr to send flames and smoke up into the air and appease the Norse god of winter and snow so he’ll bless us with abundant white stuff,” Girvin said.
Larissa O’Neil, executive director of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance, said she’s heard several interpretations of Ullr Fest’s origin story from longtime locals. Ultimately, she said she sees it as a way resort ski instructors successfully tried to draw people to Breckenridge.
“I think Ullr to Breckenridge is really reflective of this whimsical, eclectic attitude that the community has had for a long time,” O’Neil said. “The origins of Ullr are really interesting, too, and it’s neat that it’s a tradition that continues and has changed over time but still carries a lot of meaning for everyone who lives here.”
O’Neil said the bonfire is just another one of those traditions the Breckenridge community loves to connect with Ullr. She said she’s thrilled that the community tradition is able to make a comeback after so many folks missed it when it went on hiatus last year during the pandemic.
“It’s fun for our greater Breckenridge community to all get to be a part of that again,” O’Neil said.
Girvin said she’s ecstatic to get back to Ullr fest after a year with no celebrations. She’s working to bring together a group of former Ullr kings and queens to walk as a procession in the parade.
“This is a long-running tradition, and it celebrates the history of Breckenridge as a ski town,” Girvin said. “The event was intended to break away from our history as a mining town and create a new narrative for Breckenridge, and that’s why this is important that we keep it going.”
Thursday, Dec. 9
• 3:30 p.m. Crowning of the Ullr king and queen on Main Street in Breckenridge
• 4 p.m. World’s Longest Shot Ski, unofficial world record-breaking attempt on Main Street
• 4:30 p.m. Ullr Parade on Main Street
• 5:30-7 p.m. Bonfire at the East Sawmill Lot
Friday, Dec. 10
• 2-6 p.m. Drop-in curling at Stephen C. West Ice Arena
Saturday, Dec. 11
• 11 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. Ullr ice skating party at Stephen C. West Ice Arena arena
• 7 p.m. Holiday Classic ice skating show at Stephen C. West Ice Arena arena
Sunday, Dec. 12
• 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Movie screening of “The Art of Flight” at the Eclipse Theatre
The East Sawmill Lot — which is typically used for employee parking — will be closed Thursday, and employees with parking permits will be able to park in the South Gondola garage during the day. Permits are enforced based on license plate numbers, so no additional action is needed when parking in the garage Thursday.
The East Sawmill Lot will be open again Friday, Dec. 10, and any vehicles parked in the garage without payment on Friday will receive a violation.
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