We’re finally into ski season, and there’s no greater tradition among hard-core skiers and snowboarders than praying to the snow gods for a white winter. Chief among these gods is the mighty Ullr.

Ullr — pronounced “Ooh-ler” — is a member of the pantheon of Norse gods, son of Thor and grandson of Odin. Historically, Ullr was the Norses’ patron god of winter, agriculture, hunting, shields and justice. He was a busy guy, it seems.

These days, Ullr is recognized among skiers as the saint of shred, the god of gnar and the mogul of moguls. The mystical Norse warrior has been co-opted as the god of skiing.

Idolizing Ullr has been popular with European skiers for over 100 years. In fact, many wear Ullr charms for protection from harm while on the mountain.

Here in the states, ski resorts have Ullr parades and Ullr bonfires, and invoke the god’s name when asking for snow cover on scratchy slopes.

In that spirit, Shawnee Peak in Bridgton is hosting its annual Ullr Fest on Tuesday.

“Ullr Fest is Shawnee Peak’s annual welcome to winter,” says Melissa Rock, marketing director at the mountain.

Ullr Fest, in its 20th year, is a Shawnee institution. The centerpiece of the event is the Beating of the Drums ceremony. As visitors arrive after dark for the festival, two oil drums are lit on fire and beaten like drums.

The hubbub stirs Ullr from his lair, and he kicks off the rest of the festivities. The viking’s emergence is followed by fireworks, a torchlight parade and an apres ski party at Blizzard’s Pub.

Does the festival bring a good winter to the mountain? Rock was understandably reluctant to credit Ullr’s whims for 20 winters, good and bad. She wisely noted instead that the festival is an entertaining start to the season and “always a fun time.”

Shawnee isn’t the only New England mountain that has a history with Ullr. A few years ago, North Conway yoga instructor, Carlene Sullivan, made national headlines with weeks of bikini-clad salutes to Ullr that were followed by storms dropping 4 inches, then 8, then feet of snow in the Mount Washington Valley.

In the dismal winter of 2006, the team at Burlington’s Meathead Films turned to Ullr and the pantheon of winter gods to rustle up a bit of snow. In the opening moments of their New England ski movie, “Snow Gods,” we see a bonfire fed by old equipment and surrounded by whooping, bouncing skiers — a ceremony for Ullr and friends.

The ceremony was late in the winter. Lo and behold, conditions improved for the spring.

Even the New England Ski Museum in Franconia, N.H., is in on the action. In the museum gift shop, you can purchase Ullr ski medals for $20. The 1.5-inch talismans are decorated with the Norse god tearing down the slopes with a ski pole in one hand and bow and arrows in the other.

The back of the medal reads “wintersportler schutzpatron,” crediting Ullr as the patron of winter sports.

Around the country, celebrations of skiing’s schutzpatron are similar to the one at Shawnee.

In Los Alamos, N.M., skiers and riders start the celebration at the end of summer to get geared up for snow. A huge ceremonial fire is how Ullr gets honored in Brian Head, Utah.

At Breckenridge, Colo., Ullr Fest runs for a whole week in January, and draws more than 12,000 Ullr enthusiasts for parades, frying pan-tossing contests and other festivities.

Obviously, the only thing Ullr likes more than snow is a good party.

Who’s to say if these offerings and honors for the patron of skiing actually make for a better winter?

Anecdotally, celebrations of Ullr doesn’t seem to be hurting any ski areas.

Just to be on the safe side, I’ll be doing my snow dance at Shawnee this week.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime ski enthusiast. He writes this column every other week, sharing the space with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at:

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