Lake Tahoe’s SnowFest! celebrates 30 years; winter festival kicks off Friday
TAHOE CITY, Calif. andamp;#8212; The benevolent ghost of Bob Everson still lingers over SnowFest!, nearly 30 years later.The 30th annual SnowFest! kicks off Friday, March 4, causing organizers to hearken back to when the event was first conceived.Ruth Schnabel, on-and-off executive director of SnowFest! since its inception in 1982, helped launch the community event, but said it was the tragedy surrounding the beloved community member in Everson that truly supplied the necessary momentum for the carnival.Everson, marketing director at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort in the early ’80s, noticed that visiting skiers arrived at Tahoe primarily during the three months of December through February, and forwent making the trip in March and April, when favorable skiing conditions persist in the mountain climate.In June of 1981, Everson attended a meeting with the North Tahoe Chamber of Commerce and the Visitors and Convention Bureau andamp;#8212; which later merged into the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association andamp;#8212; where he stated his case that a weekend festival would attract visitors and showcase winter recreation opportunities still available in March.Everson’s message was well-received, and a follow-up meeting was scheduled for mid-July. However, on July 4, Everson was tragically killed in a boating accident on Lake Tahoe, and community members then decided to bring SnowFest! to fruition and dedicate the festival to the memory of Everson. andamp;#8220;Bob was a very charismatic and good-looking young man,andamp;#8221; Schnabel said. andamp;#8220;He was one of those people that everybody knew, and Bob knew everybody.andamp;#8221;
Kay Williams, a member of the SnowFest! board of directors from 1981 until 2000, said showcasing the ski resorts in March was not the sole reason for organizing the event. andamp;#8220;We just really wanted to show the world that Tahoe is a fun place for winter recreation,andamp;#8221; she said. andamp;#8220;Also, local people were interested in having a party andamp;#8212; because by March, a lot of locals are over the winter and they want a reason to get outdoors and play.andamp;#8221;Williams said the event’s founders chose March because the weather and snow conditions are typically conducive to hosting an event during that time of year.Since March of 1982, organizers have managed to host SnowFest! annually despite shifts in the local business landscape, turbulence in the national economy and a general trend of North Shore communities evolving from vibrant homes for full-time residents to a vacation destination for tourists and second-home owners. andamp;#8220;I have really enjoyed just being involved with the start of the festival and seeing how it has survived and in some ways evolved over the last 30 years,andamp;#8221; said Tahoe resident Steve Teshara, who worked as a media coordinator during the festival’s fledgling days and has since worked in various capacities for the event. andamp;#8220;The festival shows a lot of community spirit and I think it’s a good thing for the North Shore.andamp;#8221;Schnabel was the initial executive director of SnowFest!, working from 1982-1989; for another stint in the ’90s, and after some lean years in the early 2000s, she is back at the helm, fundraising and organizing activities for the event.andamp;#8220;I have really enjoyed my time with SnowFest!,andamp;#8221; she said. andamp;#8220;When I did it in the ’80s, I had such a passion for it, and I still enjoy it and love it. I think it’s a gift to the community.andamp;#8221;
Schnabel remembers when the festival was initially planned for one weekend, but due to the desire of local vendors to host a smattering of events, the festival’s schedule was elongated into 10 days. Schnabel said festival-goers often respond to the opening ceremony at Squaw Valley USA, which consists of a torchlight parade with fireworks and a laser show. The polar bear swim at Gar Woods restaurant in Carnelian Bay and two street parades through Tahoe City and Kings Beach, respectively, bring out large rambunctious crowds, Schnabel said.andamp;#8220;These events give businesses in the community a real boost,andamp;#8221; she said.In looking back, Schnabel said the year andamp;#8212; she believes it was 1988 andamp;#8212; organizers solicited a snow sculptor to build a 40-foot-tall by 70-foot-wide replica of the original Smithsonian Institute Building at Boreal Mountain Resort to advertise the winter carnival.andamp;#8220;We put it at Boreal where it would be visible from Interstate 80,andamp;#8221; Schnabel said.
Judy Friedman, executive director of SnowFest! from 1989-1997, said she particularly recalls the bustle of children enjoying themselves along the streets as parade floats roll by.Friedman also recounts a story involving long-time resident Marilyn Sloan, who visited Tahoe City for the first time while SnowFest! was under way. The story goes that Sloan was so impressed by the community spirit she witnessed that she moved to the North Shore on a permanent basis.Williams recalls a less pleasure-inducing occurrence, when Stephen Stills andamp;#8212; of Crosby, Stills and Nash fame andamp;#8212; played a concert at the old Olympic Village at Squaw Valley, that, due to a ticketing debacle, required the president of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce to issue cash refunds to a cold and shivering crowd while being escorted by two members of the Placer County Sheriff’s Office.On a lighter note, Williams said 1990 represented a high water mark moment when Good Morning America broadcast its show from atop Homewood Mountain Ski Resort.andamp;#8220;It really show the level of national media interest at that time,andamp;#8221; she said.Another salient selection of SnowFest! lore comes courtesy of Schnabel, who said a woman by the name of Patricia O’Connell, daughter of famous director Alfred Hitchcock, donated a selection from her father’s wine cellar to raise more than $30,000 for cystic fibrosis during the 1987 edition of SnowFest!.
While all parties interviewed conceded the heyday of the event was in the late ’80s and early 90s, they all said the fact the event still exists is a testament to its importance to the area’s businesses and local residents as well as to people from outside the region. andamp;#8220;People are still attracted to authentic experiences andamp;#8212; whether it’s the Garlic Festival in Gilroy or SnowFest!, people are willing to travel for unique experiences,andamp;#8221; Teshara said.Williams said while it is fun to recount various memories that issue from the North Shore’s flagship community event, more will need to be done to keep the festival viable in the future.andamp;#8220;A lot of us that started the festival were young and we’re getting to be more senior,andamp;#8221; she said. andamp;#8220;I think the festival needs to attract more young people that bring different experiences and new ideas. It’s a nice community event, right now, but it has the potential to be so much more.andamp;#8221;The difference between the ’80s and ’90s andamp;#8212; the era of SnowFest!’s zenith when corporate sponsorship provided organizers with comparatively vast resources andamp;#8212; and now is discernible, Schnabel said.andamp;#8220;At one point, we could afford to have two full-time people that work on fundraising and organizing activities on a year-round basis,andamp;#8221; Schnabel said. andamp;#8220;Now, we have two part-time that work only six months of the year.andamp;#8221;Friedman said bringing back corporate sponsorships is critical for the festival to persist in a sustainable fashion.andamp;#8220;Without sponsorships from the big ski areas, resources have dwindled,andamp;#8221; she said.Teshara said the dynamics have changed since the community event first launched. He said the idea for the event came out of ski resort management strategizing methods of attracting skiers beyond the traditional three-month winter period of December to February.At the time, all the ski resorts in the basin galvanized behind the idea of the festival; today, the resorts have different marketing mechanisms for attracting visitors beyond February and extending the season.
Williams said with the upheaval in the ski resort landscape on the North Shore andamp;#8212; both Squaw Valley and Northstar-at-Tahoe changed ownership this past year andamp;#8212; now is a good time to consider bringing back resorts into the fundraising and sponsorship fold. andamp;#8220;There are two new owners in the local ski industry that have a lot of experience in coming up with ways to attract people to winter destinations, so it would be beneficial to seek their input at the least,andamp;#8221; she said. Williams believes after the next edition of the festival, organizers need to reassess what they want the event to be and come up with fresh strategies and approaches.andamp;#8220;That’s what we did at the beginning,andamp;#8221; she said. andamp;#8220;We went door to door asking local businesses what we should or could do to put on events that are beneficial to the entire community,andamp;#8221; she said. andamp;#8220;We need our locals to invest in the event and get a sustained effort behind it; it can’t just be Ruth holding her finger in the dike, trying to keep it alive.andamp;#8221; For her part, Schnabel is happy to be back at the helm, but hinted that her days as executive director may be numbered. andamp;#8220;I fear this community takes SnowFest! for granted,andamp;#8221; she said. andamp;#8220;It’s a real boost to local businesses and it’s truly a gift to the community, but we need resources to keep putting it on year after year.andamp;#8221;
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