Summit Suds: Ullr Fest revelers break unofficial shot ski record
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Kevin Litch Polich’s name.
I hope you’ll forgive me for breaking from the topic of beer to write about other alcoholic beverages in the spirit of the season. On Thursday, Dec. 12, Breckenridge reclaimed the unofficial title of putting on the world’s largest shot ski when 1,320 people took shots of Breckenridge Distillery’s bourbon on 440 skis.
In January of 2019 during the 56th Ullr Fest, there were 1,299 participants drinking from 433 skis. That record was held until Park City, Utah, took it in October, and Breckenridge had the opportunity to grab it for the second time in a year at this month’s 57th Ullr Fest.
The annual shot ski tradition started in 2013 with friends Kevin Litch Polich and Kristian Slaugh capitalizing on Ullr Fest and simply wanting to do something fun. They managed to collect 60 skis from shops and friends, tore the bindings off, screwed the skis together and gathered 192 participants for the grassroots, impromptu plan.
A few attendees were visiting Breckenridge from Iowa, and later that year, 350 people participated in a shot ski event at Sundown Mountain Resort in Iowa, and then 522 people took shots at Alpine Resort in British Columbia, Canada. Naturally, that led to the distillery partnering with the Breckenridge Tourism Office, Breckenridge Mountain Rotary and the town to step up their game with 666 shot takers in 2014. When Park City got involved in 2016, it became a friendly rivalry as the two have incrementally raised the stakes back and forth.
“We kind of at first wanted to crush them,” Polich said, “but we’re running out of street, we’re running out skis, we’re running out of people. It’s getting expensive. So we just kind of break each other’s records for about 10 people or so.”
With the increases in skis, shots and people, come logistical challenges and tweaks. At the beginning, plastic cups were glued directly to the skis. That then morphed to the cups being screwed into place and eventually the more efficient hook and loop fasteners, which are currently used. In an effort to be more environmentally conscious, this year was the first that reusable tin cups were implemented.
There have been changes to the liquid inside those cups, as well. First the distillery would run down the growing line of skis and pour peppermint schnapps. In 2017, they switched things up by doling out a special cinnamon whiskey.
Now rather than pour, imbibers are handed airplane bottles of the distillery’s flagship bourbon to pour themselves. According to Polich, director of business development at the distillery and one of the company’s initial partners, the change saves a lot of time and prevents people from alleging they were skipped to get extra alcohol.
Yet the most notable advancement is the fact that there are so many people involved that the shape of the skis is now a horseshoe instead of a straight line. To still be one continuous shot ski and eligible for the record, the team developed what they call an “articulating knuckle.” It breaks the ski into thirds and allows three people to drink simultaneously even though the two on the ends are on the curved portion of the ski.
“It’s a very simplistic piece of wood with two hinges on each side, and it seems to do the trick,” Polich said.
While they used to accept donations to help keep the length of the shot ski going — including some from local legend C.J. Mueller — the distillery currently has enough of a ski surplus to last years. As time progresses, however, it might be harder to keep the same vintage aesthetic since they don’t want to use newer, shaped gear.
“People were proud to have their ski on the shot ski,” Polich said. “It was really something we didn’t foresee and something exciting for them.”
“Sixty of those skis now have been around for eight years, and we continue to add to them,” said Jessie Unruh-Brossman, marketing manager for the distillery.
That sense of town pride and community is something the distillery is glad to help foster and watch grow each year.
“Ullr Fest and the world’s longest shot ski has really become a staple in this town, something that people look forward to,” Unruh-Brossman said. “It shares our character more than anything else that we do.”
I had never done the shot ski before this year, let alone attend Ullr Fest, and I was pleasantly surprised how it was much more than simply drinking. Standing mere feet away from Trygve Berge — one of the founders of Breckenridge Ski Resort — was a bucket list moment.
For those who haven’t participated, follow Polich’s advice of lining up near people of similar height to prevent spilling. Another tip of my own is to not fill the cup all the way to the top. Keep some of that bourbon in the bottle to savor after the shot.
Jefferson Geiger is the arts & entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News and managing editor for Everything Summit. Have a question about beer? Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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