It is 32 degrees F as I write this, not the coldest of winter mornings, but cold enough for a man like me who grew up in sunny Florida. So it seems appropriate that we turn our attention to the Norse god Ullr.
In the Poetic Edda we read that his home is called Ydalir which has been translated to mean “yew dales.” Given that Ullr was extremely fond of hunting and archery, we shouldn’t be surprised that he made his home in a place where yew trees thrives since that wood is especially prized for making bows. There are two other mentions of him, but they are almost throwaway lines that don’t really tell us anything about him. However, the more intriguing one at least mentions oaths sworn “by Ullr’s ring.”
Gylfaginning, in the Prose Edda, is where we can learn more about this god. During a conversation between Gangleri and Hárr, the former asks for the names of the various Aesir and which one you should call on for various boons. Hárr replies:
One is called Ullr, son of Sif, step-son of Thor; he is so excellent a bowman, and so swift on snowshoes, that none may contend with him. He is also fair of aspect and has the accomplishments of a warrior; it is well to call on him in single-combats.
If he is the go-to god for blessings in single combat we have to assume that he was no slouch with a sword and a spear but he is most commonly depicted with his beloved bow and arrows. The figure on the Böksta Runestone of a man on skis holding a bow is generally believed to be Ullr. The coat of arms for the municipality of Ullensaker in Norway, which derives its names from Ullr, features a man with bow and arrows.
I am not sure when or why the transition from snowshoes to skies occurred, but the god has been embraced whole-heartedly by many modern skiers. Breckenridge, CO has been hosting an Ullrfest for 50 years now. In addition many European skiers will carry an Ullr medallion to bring them good luck and safe times on the slopes.