Ullr Fest 2013: Get Your Snow On

The actual Ullr Parade

Despite the collateral fun that was being had, the main focus of this trip was to absorb the events surrounding the Ullr Parade, which is basically Burning Man, meets random state parade, meets Bud Light. That being said, I had a phenomenal time at the parade, and the entire day was hands down my favorite of the entire trip.

Our team had been given generously bedazzled Ullr helmets for the festivities, and with these we made our way past the 14,000 spectators and towards the announcing area where we would be judging the parade.

Before we had the chance to view any floats, however, a Guinness Book of World Records was being broken right in our midst. Prior to this exact moment in time, the record for longest Shot-ski was held by an Arizonan fraternity at 167 feet. We were now watching as countless Ullr paraders held aloft a 312 foot Shot-ski and downed a new world record, all to the approvingly wild shouts of the crowd.

Once in our judging area, with cold Bud Lights in hand, the slow procession of whacky floats began. Our criteria was loose and mostly completed in light-hearted humor, yet there was a $1000 prize to the winning float, so I made sure to stay meticulous with my judgments.

At first, I was a bit disappointed in the contestants. A few boring entries rolled past – trucks with waving crews and half-ass decorations. As the minutes ticked on, however, the heavy hitters made their way onto the scene and soon enough, a smile was plastered to my face as I debated each float’s positives with the guy standing next to me. “Clearly a good design; not so much fun, though.” I loved that “fun” was one of the categories, and I routinely equated this to how hammered each contestant in a particular group was, and the amount of cheers they mustered from the crowd.

Dinner #2: Relish

The owners of Twist also run a restaurant called Relish, which turned out to be my favorite of all the dining experiences for the week. They had a ton of great wine, and being a beer enthusiast, even some decent IPA. The setting was formal enough to radiate a sense of class, yet casual to where you didn’t feel out of place in, say, a massive bejeweled Ullr helmet.

As dinner progressed, large “booms” became barely audible and I was informed that fireworks were going off. I took a minute to stand on the balcony and watch as the explosions lit up the night sky. What was to come of the rest of the night?

Gold Pan-1, Tom-0

After exiting Relish, our group drank for a bit at another bar and then progressed back down Main Street. Crowds were still prevalent, and given the day’s festivities, I was in a terrific and energetic mood; there was more to be had of this night. We soon stopped at the entrance to a bar called the Gold Pan, which was crawling with people. I looked at the scene and the whole building looked like one giant beast, writhing around with energy.

At that point, I made the decision to get into that movement; I didn’t really know what I was going to do, but I knew I couldn’t really go wrong with two horns jutting out from my helmet and a healthy optimism. The rest of the group had their reasons for not joining. Drew’s husband was celebrating his birthday, Seth was still nursing his altitude sickness, and Dane, my last wingman option, came to the conclusion that this was not something he could handle right now.

“No worries,” I assured him, “We probably couldn’t even hear each other in there anyway.” With that, I stepped inside the bar, Han Solo. The events that followed over the next four hours are about as concrete as a Lance Armstrong testimony, but I did make some observations regarding true bar-raging in Breckenridge.

First off, the scene is diverse. I started off with a mature and interesting conversation regarding environmentalism and the recent Drake’s Bay case, then minutes later deteriorated into a beer pong frenzy. I found that juxtaposition to be very appealing, that there were stable and mellower crowds rubbing shoulders with the college-age ski bums. It wasn’t a clear cut distinction, like, “This is a hipster dive bar,” or “That is a yuppie hangout.”

In bed, thank God

I awoke the next morning with a reasonable vice grip on my skull, inexorably squeezing my dehydrated brain and bringing to light some of the last memories of the night. Once again, the shuttle service had saved the day and brought me back to the hotel with expedience.

After telling my body to shut up, I gathered my snow gear and hit the mountain for a few runs before meeting the crew at One Ski Hill Place to take a tour of the building. The resort was very high-class, with homeowners privy to some truly awesome amenities such as an aquatic center, media room, rejuvenation center, and a private bowling alley straight out of “Kingpin.”

One Skill Hill Place, with its services being available to any members, represented to me the trend that is currently playing out with a lot of winter resorts: all access. Vail Resorts has been aggressively expanding their land holdings in not only Colorado, but Tahoe as well. As of today, they own Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar. Additional runs are being added in Breckenridge as well, with a new lift set to open in the near future.

All of these seemingly monopolizing business practices can be at first a bit shocking, but for the skier/visitor/traveler, this means nothing but bonus access. With an Epic Pass, all of the aforementioned mountains are up for grabs, and if you don’t want to throw all the chips down for that, other pass options are available.

Final night

Our last night in town involved a dinner at the delicious Blue River Bistro, and the following description is really all that is needed to convey how tasty dinner was: Marinated flank steak, asparagus, tomatoes & green onions tossed in a spicy Chipotle cilantro pesto sauce topped with avocado over penne.

One last hurrah was to be had, and Drew decided that the Absinthe Bar was a must. A lingering attitude of nausea persisted within me, causing some pessimism about her decision, but it was the last night, I relented, and we were once again walking the strip.

It was at this point that Seth’s altitude sickness really made itself apparent. “How much farther is it?” he nervously questioned as we rounded our second block. “It should just be right up here, why? Are you okay? Oh, Seth! I feel so bad, you’ve been sick this whole time!” Drew was completely earnest in her sympathy, and I admitted to feeling equally bad for the guy. It seemed his trip had been an endless episode of nausea and light-headedness; he wasn’t even able to make it up skiing.

Seth was eventually shuttled off after we said our goodbyes, then, one man down, we headed into the Absinthe Bar. With 90s music serenading the entire bar, we reminisced on the week as the Absinthe stirred up some excitement. I thought back on what my expectations had been, both of Ullr Fest and the town itself. Was Ullr Fest something I would seek out on my own? Would I gather a crew of my buddies and plan for a ski trip to Breckenridge in the future?

The answer is hell yes; Breckenridge is everything a ski town should be: bustling with activity, commercially expanding, epic in its collection of events/things to do, and filled with some of the most kind, healthy-looking people I’ve ever seen occupy a single space.

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