By Dan Rabin
Dan Rabin is a Boulder-based freelance writer and author of the guidebook, Colorado Breweries.
Ullr, the mythological Norse god of skiing, is synonymous with wintertime fun, frolic and festivities. In the spirit of snowy reverie, Snowmass Resort hosts Ullr Nights, a weekly family-focused on-mountain event featuring outdoor activities plus indoor entertainment and dining. Ullr Nights takes place in and around Elk Camp, the resorts newest mid-mountain restaurant, on Friday nights throughout ski season.
The Elk Camp gondola departs from the Snowmass Base Village. An Ullr Nights gondola ticket, which is separate from a ski pass, is required ($8 per person, free for kids 3 and younger). The weekly event runs from 5:30-9:30.
Early on a Friday evening in January, I made my way to Elk Camp to take in the scene. On the ride up the mountain, I shared a gondola with a family of four who reside full-time in Snowmass. The two elementary-school-age sisters, who had been to Ullr Nights previously, made little attempt to hide their excitement at the evening ahead. Its a good sign when resort attractions appeal not only to visitors from afar, but also to a local audience.
From the top of the gondola, a variety of activities were in view on the expansive open terrain around the Elk Camp retreat. Some activities were free, while others required an additional fee. Miniature snowbikes were available for kids to use on a gentle slope at no charge. Beyond the biking hill, a small tubing hill was also popular with the younger set and was also free.
Nearby, kids disappeared into the top of a massive snow fortress in which a slide was embedded. They reappeared seconds later as they emerged at high speed from an opening at the bottom of the impressive structure. Chaperones stationed at each of the free activities kept things orderly and made sure everyone got a chance to partake in the fun.
Of all the outdoor activities, the big tubing hill drew the biggest crowds and elicited the loudest shrieks. A covered moving walkway transported thrill-seekers and their inflatable snow donuts up the hill. A tubing ticket ($32 per person) is good for an hour of gravity-fueled excitement. Everyone had a designated start time, which eliminated congestion and kept the lift line moving quickly. Tubing is available for anyone over 36 tall.
There are several other activities that are less obvious to the casual observer and require some advance planning. For adults and older kids, two types of guided tours offer a different type of active outdoor experience. Snowshoe tours, conducted by the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, are free of charge and depart from the top of the gondola at 6 and 7:30 pm. Snowbike tours are also available for intermediate skiers or snowboarders ages 12 and over. These $69 tours require advance reservations (970-923-1227) and are limited to 16 participants. In addition, ice skating is sometimes offered at Ullr Nights when weather conditions are favorable.
For a bit of downtime, a pair of bonfires provided a peaceful retreat. Supplies were provided for visitors to practice the fine art of marshmallow roasting. For those with more refined tastes, smores kits were available for purchase inside Elk Camp.
Among the highlights of an Ullr Nights outing is a meal at the Elk Camp restaurant which features a special Ullr Nights menu. Pizza and other kids favorites were available. Adult appetites didnt lack for more hearty fare. The night I visited, the choices included a seafood bar with crab and shrimp, and a variety of entrees including roast beef, roasted pig, rotisserie chicken and baked fish. The portions were large, the quality quite good, and prices surprisingly reasonable. A live band, stationed in the dining room, kept the vibe lively and upbeat throughout the evening with a repertoire of country favorites and rock classics.
The bar, adjacent to the dining room, did a brisk business throughout the evening serving those who, like me, didnt have kids in tow or were merely seeking temporary refuge from their clan. Adult beverages such as mulled wine and hot and cold cocktails were available. Beer choices included a pair of excellent Colorado-brewed craft brews.
As the evening progressed, the crowds slowly thinned out as parents lead their happy, if weary, offspring back to the gondola. By the time the band played its last song, Ullr and Iwere ready to call it a night.