The Last of UllrDag: Drunken debauchery led to cancellation of 1960s festival |

The Last of UllrDag: Drunken debauchery led to cancellation of 1960s festival

2020 is not the first time Ullr Fest has been canceled


Jon Ballard, from left, Larry Raff as Ullr and Betty Jo Ballard.
Photo from John A. Topolnicki Sr. Photographic Collection / Dr. Sandra F. Mather Archives at the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance

The pandemic canceled this week’s Ullr Fest, but it’s not the first time Ullr took a hiatus in Breckenridge.

The last of the UllrDag Festivals of the 1960s ended in debauchery, destruction and community division. It would be a long time before Ullr returned to Breckenridge in a festival form familiar today.

The first UllrDag Festival in 1963 promoted the new Breckenridge ski area with the fun and frivolity for which Breckenridge would become known. In 1963, the ski area was brand new. Though it debuted the 1961-62 season under the name Peak 8 Ski Area, many considered that first season a soft opening. Lack of snow and an unfamiliar name doomed the first year to a significant financial loss.

Determined to make a success of the second season, the owners changed the name to connect the ski area to the town and hired professional publicity staff. The culmination of the second season was the introduction of a new festival called UllrDag in March 1963. Ull is the Norse god of winter and skiing, Dag means day, and the “r” suffix indicates a possessive. Ull’s Day Festival was hatched by the Norwegians recruited to run the ski school, including Trygve Berge, who still lives in Breckenridge.

The first UllrDag was a success and put Breckenridge on the radar of the growing ski industry.

However, the first UllrDag gained notoriety when the U.S. Treasury came calling to remind the Kingdom of Breckenridge that only the U.S. government can mint coins for circulation.

Those first Ullr coins are now collectors items.

A tale of two Ullrs

By the fifth festival in 1967, UllrDag had grown exponentially in popularity. Real estate agent Earl Tatum, who served as prime minister of the festival, praised the increase in attendees at the parade and additional participants in the skijoring and dog sled competitions, doubling of the sales of Ullr coins.

“We probably have the biggest winter festival in Colorado,” Tatum told his fellow chamber of commerce members.

Town booster Frank Brown Jr., who was editor and publisher of the Summit County Journal, insisted UllrDag was a “… symbol of identification which made snow here on that weekend different from the snow of any other place.”

But it wasn’t all good. Breckenridge was still a very small town with unreliable infrastructure and limited options for lodging and dining. The arrival of hundreds of visitors overwhelmed the resources of the community. Worse, many of those attendees were unruly college students who caused trouble.

The same newspaper edition that extolled the fifth UllrDag contained story after story about the vandalism and debauchery that tainted the 1967 festival. Rowdies busted up The Hoosier Pass Bar, the county’s only 3.2 joint. (Up until the late 1970s, people ages 18-20 were permitted to purchase and drink beer with a 3.2% alcohol content.) The vandals broke a booth off the wall, smashed four windows and tore down half of the partition between the men’s and women’s restrooms.

At least 60 people were arrested or cited in Breckenridge that weekend, a significant per capita rate for a community with a population well under 1,000. The town marshal, county sheriff and state liquor board all made arrests for underage drinking and public consumption of alcohol as well as other crimes.

Three teens were arrested for stealing Champagne from the Breckenridge Inn and spent the night in jail. Cops released them to their parents the next morning. Four youths were arrested and jailed for drinking wine in the streets. Underage kids were caught drinking wine that they brought into the Gold Pan, which later caused the 10-day suspension of that historic bar’s liquor license.

One lad’s arrest for public nudity and indecent exposure immediately sent him to jail to serve a three-day sentence. A sober adult was charged after buying liquor for a woman who flipped her car while driving drunk. Other charges included traffic violations, auto accidents and disturbing the peace.

Students from Western State College had attended the festival one year earlier in 1966 and caused some trouble. To them, it must have been fun, because they brought a huge contingent back to the 1967 festival. Sheriff Chuck Clark reported that the teens told him they thought “there was no law and no jail during UllrDag.” They expected to get away with doing whatever they wanted.

The 1967 UllrDag introduced a new term to describe these young people: creepies. The Breckenridge Inn “was invaded by 20-50 long-haired creeps,” who started fistfights and attempted to pile a dozen kids into a double room. They destroyed toilets and inflicted other damage to five or six hotel rooms.

These same “creepies” ruined the dance party planned for the younger crowd at the UllrHolm building at the base of the ski area. They vandalized the restrooms by pulling the towel dispensers from the wall, broke windows, collapsed six tables and menaced the band to the point that the musicians refused to play the next night.

Restaurants refused to open for service because too many young people were dining and ditching. Law-abiding visitors had nowhere to eat, further damaging Breckenridge’s reputation for hospitality.

Headlines in the Denver newspapers after the event denounced the festival. The Rocky Mountain News proclaimed: “Teenage Vandals Tear Up Breckenridge.” The Denver Post reported: “Breckenridge ‘Teen Rampage’ Denied by Sheriff.”

The Breckenridge town marshal was new to the job and maintained that he was not informed and ill-prepared for the influx of unruly guests. But Sheriff Clark was more sanguine.

“Sure, we had some problems, but the amount of drinking percentage-wise in a crowd of that size was normal,” Clark said.

The bad press for UllrDag followed on the heels of other negative news reports about Breckenridge: frozen water lines, untreated sewage and the deadly explosion at the UllrHolm building the year before.

An early UllrDag parade with Larry Raff as Ullr.
Photo from John A. Topolnicki Sr. Photographic Collection / Dr. Sandra F. Mather Archives at the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance

To be or not to be

A month passed before the chamber of commerce convened to determine the fate of UllrDag. Though a motion was made to sponsor UllrDag again in 1968, Chamber Director and District Attorney Jack Healy tabled the vote in a deft parliamentary move.

It wasn’t until August 1967 that the group took up the issue again. After months of digestion, the chamber found it had no stomach for the event. The headline in the following issue of the Summit County Journal screamed in 30-point type: “ULLR DAG ABANDONED.”

UllrDag ended partly because of the bad behavior of a group of young people, though the chamber members all agreed that an increased police presence could quell future unruliness.

To add insult to injury, the 1967 event lost money despite its increased attendance. The chamber was out $1,000, which equates to about $8,000 today — not a small amount for an upstart town.

Newspaper publisher Brown lamented the death of the festival. After the decisive chamber vote, he wrote, “the UllrDag Festival requires only a eulogy for final proper burial.”

More than a decade would pass before the people of Breckenridge invited Ullr to return and started the Ullr Fest known today.

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