The Last of UllrDag
December 10, 2020 | Category: Our Collective History
The pandemic canceled UllrFest 2020, but it is not the first time that 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 to us today.
The first UllrDag Festival in 1963 promoted the new Breckenridge Ski Area with the fun and frivolity that Breckenridge would become known for. 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 in March 1963, UllrDag.
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 and Sigurd Rockne, both of whom still live in Breckenridge.
The first UllrDag in 1963 was a success and put Breckenridge on the radar of the growing ski industry.
However, under the heading that bad publicity is better than none, the first UllrDag gained notoriety when the U.S. Treasury came a calling to remind the Kingdom of Breckenridge that only the U.S. Government can mint coins for circulation.
Those first Ullr coins are now collector’s items. Breckenridge history has more information on the origins of Ullrfest in a separate blog post.
A Tale of Two Ullrs
By the fifth festival in 1967, UllrDag had grown exponentially in popularity. Prime Minister of the Festival, realtor Earl Tatum, praised the increase in attendees at the parade, additional participants in the ski-joring and dog sled competitions, doubling of the sales of Ullr coins of the realm, and the fine time had by all at the Royal Ball. “We probably have the biggest Winter Festival in Colorado,” he reminded his fellow Chamber of Commerce members.
Town booster, Frank Brown, Jr., who was both editor and publisher of the Summit County Journal, insisted that 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 from Western State College in Gunnison. And did they cause trouble!
They Stomped the Napkin Holders
The same newspaper edition that extolled the 5th 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, persons between the age of 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. Highlighting the wantonness of their destruction: “some napkin holders were stomped flat.”
At least sixty 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 under-age drinking and public consumption of alcohol, as well as other crimes.
Three teens, named in the newspaper, were arrested for stealing champagne from the Breckenridge Inn. They spent the night in jail. Cops released them to their parents the next morning. Four youths were arrested and jailed for drinking wine on the streets. These may have been the same under-age kids who 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 attended the 1966 UllrDag, and they caused some trouble then. 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, and almost got away with, doing whatever they wanted. The ’67 UllrDag introduced a new term to describe these young people: “creepies.” The Breckenridge Inn “was invaded by 20-50 long haired creeps,” who started fist fights and attempted to pile a dozen kids into a double. They destroyed toilets and inflicted other damage to 5 or 6 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.
The famed UllrDag parade was also a debacle. Though Main Street was supposed to be closed for the parade, the local police made little attempt to control traffic and crowds. The marching band units and others in the parade had to “wind themselves through the snail of cars… liberally intertwined with moving spectators.”
Restaurants refused to open for service because too many young people were dining and ditching. Law-abiding visitors had no where to go to eat, further damaging Breckenridge’s reputation for hospitality.
Another Black Eye
Headlines in the Denver newspapers after the event denounced the Breckenridge UllrDag. The Rocky Mountain News claimed: “Teenage Vandals Tear Up Breckenridge.” And the Denver Post reported: “Breckenridge ‘Teen Rampage’ Denied by Sheriff.”
The Breckenridge Town Marshall 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.”
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.
UllrDag – 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, in a deft parliamentary move, tabled the vote.
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. What really drove the demise of UllrDag is the familiar refrain of volunteer event organizers the world around: we need more people involved. The same volunteers put on the event each year, taking time away from their own businesses while others “sat on their duffs.” They were tired of it. And the ’67 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.
Publisher Brown lamented the death of the festival. After the decisive Chamber vote, he wrote “the Ullr Dag Festival requires only a eulogy for final proper burial.”
Ullr Snow Sculpture at an Early UllrDag Festival
Over a decade would pass before the people of Breckenridge invited Ullr to return and started the UllrFest we know today. That story will be told in a future blog article from Breckenridge History.