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“Ullr: Nordic God of Snow and Winter”

(click to enlarge)

Original acrylic painting by Floyd Johnson, ULLR Ski Club member 1960's-1980's

In old Scandinavian myth, Ull ("glory") is the god of justice and duelling, as well as the patron god of agriculture.  He excels in archery and in skiing and lives in his hall Ydalir ("yew dales").  He is regarded as the son of Sif and the stepson of Thor.  When the giantess Skadi divorced Njord she married Ull.   


In Norse mythology, Ullr is a son of Sif and a stepson of Thor.  While extant sources are scant he appears to have been a major god in prehistoric times, or even an aspect of the head of the Proto-Germanic pantheon, mentioned on the 3rd century Thorsberg chape.

In Skáldskaparmál, the second part of the Prose Edda, Snorri mentions Ullr again in a discussion of kennings.  Snorri informs his readers that Ullr can be called ski-god, bow-god, hunting-god and shield-god.  In turn a shield can be called Ullr's ship.  Despite these tantalising tidbits Snorri relates no myths about Ullr.  It seems likely that he didn't know any, the god having faded from memory.  Snorri's note that a shield can be called Ullr's ship is borne out by surviving skaldic poetry with kennings such as askr Ullar, far Ullar and kjóll Ullar all meaning Ullr's ship and referring to shields.  While the origin of this kenning is unknown it could be connected with the identity of Ullr as a ski-god.  Early skis, or perhaps sleds, might have been reminiscent of shields.  A late Icelandic composition, Laufás-Edda, offers the prosaic explanation that Ullr's ship was called Skjöldr, "Shield".

In Modern Icelandic Ullr is usually referred to as Ullur.  In the mainland Scandinavian languages the familiar form is Ull, without the nominative case marker -r.  The latter form is sometimes used as an anglicization, as is Uller.


Ullr - The Man, The Myth

by David McKee, Vancouver, BC, Canada
October 2000    

You know the feeling-you are on your skis working the rhythm, enjoyin' the speed, and suddenly for a few turns, you feel immortal.  The feeling is difficult to describe but perhaps you sensed a little inspiration from Ullr, the god of choice among Scandinavians and backcountry snow lovers alike.

Ullr, a.k.a. Uller, Ullin, Holler, Vulder, and Ull, is a pre-Viking era Nordic god and he kept fine company with the likes of Odin, Thor, and other esteemed deities.  Among his many skills, he was the god of skiing, archery, hunting, and was known to be quite promiscuous (which he may have inherited from his mother Sif, the Goddess of Fertility).  Sure, Ullr had some neat traits but in our world of plastic boots, cap skis, laser sights, and Viagra, it's easy to dismiss them as the quaint skills(generiskapoteket.com) of some randy old god.  Nevertheless, think back to the days when being noted as a master archer was no slight task.

At the time, Ullr was competing with the likes of Thor, who brandished a hammer capable of shooting lightning bolts in battle (sort of like skiing old Karhu XCD's while your buddy is on a pair of AK Launchers).  Then there was Loki the trickster, who could assume the form of animals to deceive or escape the wrath of the gods.  Despite his lack of supernatural powers (aside from skiing), Ullr was the name invoked to warrant good luck when undertaking a duel.  His name, which means glorious or dazzling, clearly reflects his abilities, and myth has it he once held the seat of the highest god.  His character and the legends associated with it are pervasive throughout the historic tales of the Vikings, Goths, Saxons, and ancient Britons.  Basically, Ullr rules!

In addition to dueling, gods were also known to have a penchant for good times, and Ullr, when he was not out making fresh tracks, was known to flirt with the Goddesses on a regular basis.  His sexual prowess is legendary and if modern pop culture is any indication, then the goddesses may well have been sporting horns and pointy metal bras - necessitating some smooth talkin' and delicate moves on Ullr's part (and you thought the obstacle course on Survivor was tough).  As an historical aside: Ullr's sexual prowess seems to support archaeological evidence that polypropylene underwear has not existed until recent times given the effect sweaty polypro has on most folks' amorous inclinations.  However, most important to us snow lovers, Ullr is the god of skiing.  As the undisputed master of skis, he often used his skill to escape from foes or track down prey in addition to shredding fresh POW.  In a sport intimately tied with Scandinavian tradition, it is no wonder that in Norway there are a number of place names that incorporate the name of Ullr.

In the days of Ullr, skis were not entirely what we'd recognize today.  In fact, what we know as skis probably did not evolve until the last century.  In the time of the gods, skis were akin to two planks of wood - one wrapped with cord to provide traction.  As people were often hunting or at war, a single ski pole was often used, allowing a free hand for a weapon.

It is said that Ullr was such a great skier that he would streak across the sky leaving the brilliant stars as his trails (they obviously had some fine powder days).  Though very skilled, Ullr guarded his knowledge closely and refused to show the other gods how to ski.  Luckily for us, he let the secret out of the bag and we will all be soon celebrating his glory.  Next time you are trying to bash through some wind crust or plunge head first into fresh waist deep powder, be sure to invoke his name and remember - ULLR RULES!