Don a Viking hat, leap into ice cold water and toss your Christmas tree into a raging fire.
While you may get weird looks for this in downtown Denver, you’d fit right in during Breckenridge’s annual festival of snow.
Called Ullr Fest, it’s a party to enlist help from the Norse God of snow.
The town expects more than 12,000 people to show up for this year’s festival. A crowd the beloved town is more than equipped to handle.
This story is part of the 9Neighborhoods series, where we feature a different Colorado town or neighborhood each Friday. Join us for a photo tour of Breckenridge during Ullr Fest, Friday afternoon on Instagram.
Breckenridge was once thought of as a sleepy mountain ski town.
Since 2000, the town’s population has more than doubled, according to Census data, making it one of Colorado’s most popular mountain and ski destinations.
In fact, in January, Oprah Magazine included Breckenridge on a list of 19 international cities the publication deemed the "best trips to take in winter."
Much of that tourism relies on having snow. Which is where Ullr Fest comes back in.
But before we get too far into that, let’s start in the late 1800s and the winter of the big snow.
From trains to chairlifts: Tourism and snow in Breckenridge
On the evening of Nov. 27, 1898, snow began to fall in the mining town of Breckenridge. And for nearly three months, it didn’t stop.
For 79 days straight snow fell, virtually burying the town.
Businesses were closed, trains were blocked and residents dug tunnels to get around.
Eventually, on Feb. 20, the snow stopped and over the next few months it slowly started to melt away.
However, by the following summer, some of the snow was still around. Special tourist trains ran from Denver to Breckenridge so people could play in the remaining winter paradise in the middle of summer.
At the time of the ‘Big Snow,’ Breckenridge was a booming mining town.
Skiing was also already prominent in the area, but as a matter of necessity instead of recreation. Miners used skies in the winter months to get to their claims.
Over the years, gold discoveries began to subside and so did Breckenridge’s population. Once mining officially stopped in the 1950s, Breckenridge's population dwindled to almost nothing.
So, the town went back to the idea of using the draw of snow to bring people back to town.
The Breckenridge Ski Area opened on Peak 8 on Dec. 16, 1961. In its first season, 17,000 skiers came to the resort (at the time adult lift tickets cost $4 and child lift tickets cost $2.50).
Skiing, shopping and living in Breckenridge
Today, the Breckenridge Ski Resort has 34 lifts with 2,908 skiable acres spread over five peaks. A single-day adult lift ticket is now about $150 - $190 depending on online discounts and the time of year you visit.
It’s one of 18 ski areas owned by Vail Resorts.
But the 5.3-square-mile town is much more than just a ski resort.
Breckenridge's Main Street is packed with colorful, historic buildings reminiscent of the town's mining roots.
There are nearly 100 restaurants and bars to choose from, a dog park, skate park, two Nordic centers and three parks with playgrounds.
Those who want to be steps from the slopes all the time, have to pay for that privilege.
The median sale price of a home in the town is $357,500, according to real estate website Trulia.
The town also hosts numerous events throughout the year including the renowned International Snow Sculpting Championship several ski and boarding competitions, a traditional Christmas market and the annual Ullr Festival.
Who is Ullr?
The short answer is that Ullr is the Norse god of winter.
The longer answer is that according to Norse mythology, Ullr was a skilled archer and skier. Each winter, he would cover the earth in snow to protect it from harm and so that he could travel quickly around on his skies to hunt.
Local Breckenridge legend says that Ullr visits the town each year and blesses it with some of the best snow anywhere in the world.
In 1963, two of Breckenridge’s ski pioneers, both of whom have deep Norwegian roots, lobbied Town Council to start ‘Ullr Dag’ (Ullr Day in English).
It was intended as a day to thank Ullr for the snow they’ve received, pray to him for more powder days and otherwise pay homage. And it was probably a good excuse to have a raging party.
Either way, it worked and Ullr Fest has been an annual Breckenridge tradition ever since.
Shot skis, bonfires and Viking helmets
For four days in January, downtown Breckenridge is taken over by enthusiasts donning Viking hats.
The 56th annual Ullr Fest is taking place Jan. 9 – 12, 2019.
Since the beginning, the centerpiece of the festivities has been the annual parade down Main Street. Residents are encouraged to construct the most inventive floats they can and then show them off to the crowds lining the street. Prizes are awarded to the most creative designs.
Another traditional event involves constructing a massive bonfire fed by old Christmas trees from Breckenridge residents.
The festival has also added new events through the years, like a fat tire bike race, a comedy night, a cocktail competition, an ice plunge and the unofficial world record shot ski attempt.
More than 1,000 people line Main Street to simultaneously take a shot of Breckenridge Distillery liquor off skies. In 2018, 1,266 people on 422 skis spanning 2,128.3 ft participated. Since then, an event in Park City, Utah grabbed the shot ski title from Breckenridge and the town is hoping to get it back at this year’s event.
You can find out more about Ullr Fest, including the full schedule of events here: https://www.gobreck.com/event/ullr-fest/