“Ullr, hear my prayer!” I yell with a flask of whiskey raised above my head. A chill, autumn wind blows atop A-1 Peak in Utah’s Uinta Mountains; a sign of winter’s approach. “We beg you for deep powder, a stable snowpack, and the wisdom to ski it safely!” I tip my flask, adorned with an engraving of a skier doing a back scratcher, and pour top-shelf whiskey onto the summit rocks. I am here for the annual ritual of climbing atop a mountain to visualize world pow, and pray to Ullr, the Norse God of Snow, by bribing him with quality hooch for an epic winter.
Currently, the Mountain West is gripped in an unprecedented drought. The past four ski seasons have suffered way below-average snowfall, and the 2014/15 season suffered the lowest snow totals in recorded history – a horrible, terrible, downright no-good winter. I stamp my feet like a toddler throwing a tantrum whenever I think about it. Talk to any skier, especially from California, Oregon, or Washington, and they’ll likely just shake their heads and cry. One problem with having a lack of snow (aside from ski resorts shutting down early and our ski bases looking more pock-marked than Edward James Olmos’ face) is that there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. Or is there?
“Kampai!” Mason Diedrich raises his voice and turns to face the four directions. “Kampai,” he yells again, pouring Akvavit out of his flask. He’s giving Ullr a traditional Japanese toast because he doesn’t know how the Norwegians do it. I fear that’s a bad idea, because we must be very careful not to insult the “Lord of the Skier Tribe.” Mason has a history of poor judgement in this arena, having offended Ullr with a sacrifice of bargain-priced coffee liqueur that he bought five years ago from a discount bin in Wendover, Nevada. The following winter went poorly.
With his Japanese toast complete, Mason draws a beer from his pack, holds it to the clouds in supplication, and yells, “Ullr! Please give us a ski season that is a horn of plenty, with bountiful gifts of powder that fall only on my days off!” I laugh at Mason invoking a Thanksgiving image of a wicker horn overflowing with fruit as a symbol for mucho powder days, but I shrug, raise my whiskey, and join in.
“Yes, a horn of plenty! Hear our prayers, oh Ullr most gnarly and rad!” Considering how bad the winters have been lately, I figure invoking a “horn of plenty” couldn’t hurt.
See, we skiers are a superstitious tribe, and if the flakes don’t fall, we can only look to ourselves for blame. When pray-for-snow rituals produce zero results, one has to wonder if we didn’t burn enough 80’s-era skis, adorn ourselves in convincing enough gorilla costumes, or visualize world pow hard enough to convince Ullr that we are worthy enough for an epic year. Guilt-ridden over last year’s record-breaking low snow, I’ve been performing self-flagellation with Voile straps on a nightly basis to repent for my sins, even though I’m not sure what I’ve done wrong. Because when it comes to praying for snow to an ancient, Norse God, nobody really knows what they’re doing. But I have a few ideas.
First, you have to choose the proper locale for snow-god worship. The problem with ski-burning bonfires, is that they tend to happen in some bro’s backyard, or out in the desert where you can also shoot guns and play baseball with hot coals and a Tiki torch. While fun, these rituals happen at lower elevations, and can give 3rd-degree burns to your friends. One must go higher to get closer to a god that controls the weather, so a mountain summit is ideal. The bigger the mountain, the better. Because the taller the peak, the more likely Ullr will stop breaking trail in Valhalla powder fields long enough to listen.
Second, you have to choose your mountain wisely. Just because you’re standing on the highest summit in the state, doesn’t mean it is right for an Ullr prayer. Ask yourself, does anyone even ski this mountain? If not, choose another. The views are equally important. If your summit is just one of many similarly-elevated peaks lost in an above-treeline moonscape, then how the hell is Ullr supposed to find you? Instead, pick a mountain that stands alone, like a Pacific Northwest volcano. If that’s not an option, at least find a mountain with an open expanse to the west/northwest, since that’s where the big, cold storms come from. On a side note, we chose to climb A-1 Peak because of its name. Just as local companies call themselves “A-1 appliance repair,” or “A-1 ski-boot warming service” so potential customers can find them in the Yellow Pages, we figure Ullr will more easily find us on A-1 Peak, because this mountain is literally at the top of the list.
Third, make sure your timing is right. Along with being a badass skier, Ullr is also a hunter. Medieval illustrations depict him shredding pow with a bow and arrow, so you have to time your prayers for when he’s not busy stalking a winter stag. This is difficult, however, because no mortal knows the archery season dates for the Valhalla unit.
Fourth, select the proper hooch. Biblical dudes built stone altars to sacrifice their firstborns to God. In contrast, the mountains are a skier’s altar. So if you’re sacrificing a bottle of booze upon a 14,000-foot stack of stone carved from millions of years of geologic time, it’s imperative that you match it with an equally impressive, top-shelf whiskey or winter liqueur.
Finally, your prayer better be downright poetic. You’ll have to do better than pouring out malt liquor from a paper bag while mumbling, “This is for my homie, Ullr.” Instead, treat your offering like a sacrament with spoken words that elevate the ritual to a religious experience. Sing your ridiculous incantation toward the clouds at the top of your lungs, loud enough to make Ullr hear you from on high.
This ski season will be a good one. After taking a final swig of IPA, then pouring the rest out for Ullr, I feel a sense of rapture. Maybe it’s an effect of all that beer and whiskey going to my head, but I think it’s a sign. Ullr is tickling my brain to let me know that he hears us, and our efforts will not be in vain. A horn of plenty is on the way, fellow skiers, but instead of apples and bananas, it will be filled to the brim with powder. Still, I worry a little that Ullr is offended with Mason’s Japanese toast. I better put a new “Visualize World Pow “ sticker on my rusty Pathfinder, then whip myself with Voile straps again, just to be safe.