Alpine Meadows withdraws from Snowfest
Alpine Meadows has announced that it will not sponsor Snowfest this winter, prompting speculation within the community about the event’s future.
Robert Olmer, the director of sales and marketing for Alpine, said it was no longer in the ski resort’s best interest to sponsor the event, which is entering its 21st year this winter.
One of the principal reasons for Alpine’s decision to withdraw their sponsorship, according to Olmer, is the timing of the event. Snowfest was originally conceived as a marketing tool to attract visitors to the area during the slow season, which 20 years ago was early March. More recently, however, resorts have enjoyed significant success at that time of year.
“We’ve been trying to move Snowfest to springtime because that makes more sense,” said Olmer. “Last year it was at the end of February, our peak season. We have been unsuccessful in getting it moved and unfortunately because of that we did not feel it was in the ski resort’s best interest to support the event.”
Snowfest can certainly survive with one less sponsor, but there is worry that Alpine’s withdrawal is symptomatic of a broader problem. The ski resorts, through their inclusion in the Gold Pass, are the principal sponsors of Snowfest. Each ski resort gives away 500 lift tickets each year as a Gold Pass sponsor. For Alpine Meadows, that has amounted to around half a million dollars in lift tickets over the course of 20 years, according to Snowfest spokesperson Bill Jensen.
“It’s the consensus of the industry to treat every lift ticket we give away as dollars,” said Gary Pederson, director of the race department at Squaw Valley and a Snowfest board member. “Ski areas give away 500 tickets for Snowfest. That’s a sizable number.”
That “sizable number” of lift tickets donated each year to Snowfest provides the majority of the funding necessary to put on the two-week long winter carnival. Should other ski areas follow Alpine’s lead, as some suspect they might, and withdraw from Snowfest, the event’s future would be in serious jeopardy.
“[Snowfest] couldn’t happen without the ski areas,” said Judy Friedman, who spent 17 years on the Snowfest board of directors before leaving in 1997.
Two years ago the Snowfest board of directors attempted to address the ski areas’ concerns by marketing Snowfest on a broader stage. The hope was that if Snowfest could market the region to a national or even international audience, the ski areas would still have incentives to sponsor the event.
Snowfest hired a new director to make Snowfest “international.” The effort was widely perceived as unsuccessful and Snowfest wound up with significant debt.
“I think when we hired a new director a couple of years ago it was with the idea that we should be broadening the base of Snowfest and that was probably at the push of the ski resorts,” said Kay Williams, a Snowfest board member since the festival’s inception. “We tried to follow that lesson and it was an expensive lesson for us. From a management perspective it was not the right course to take.”
Snowfest, though conceived as a marketing tool, has grown into something more during the course of its 20-year history. “I think communities thrive on tradition,” said Friedman. “I think that’s a huge part of what Snowfest is. We used to say it’s a party for the locals but the whole world is invited.”
There is consensus that if Snowfest is going to continue, it needs to be reinvented to some degree. Namely, it is going to have to rely less on ski resort dollars and more on the support of the community as a whole.
“A lot of us have nostalgia for [Snowfest],” Williams said. “So when you ask people what they think of it they have good memories, but that doesn’t mean the ski resorts should have to pay for it. They should have the promotional value of it as their goal.”
Ruth Schnabel served on the Snowfest board until 1990. Today she is the executive director of the California Festival and Events Association, a bi-state association that helps educate those in the festival business.
“If you look at any event on Earth they go through their up times and their down times,” said Schnabel. “It doesn’t necessarily mean it has to go away. It’s time for Snowfest to be creative, fresh and original.”
One of the ironies of Alpine Meadows’ decision to withdraw their sponsorship, is that Snowfest was the brainchild of Bob Everson, who at the time was the sales and marketing director for Alpine Meadows. For Alpine Meadows what was once a prudent marketing decision, appears no longer to be so. As Olmer, the current sales and marketing director, said, “Snowfest has done its job.”
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