SnowFest! in its 30th year
The 30th annual SnowFest! kicks off today, highlighted by the big night of opening ceremonies tonight at Squaw Valley USA and Gar Woods.
Ruth Schnabel, on-and-off executive director of SnowFest! since its inception in 1982, helped launch the community event. Howeever, she said it was the tragedy surrounding the beloved community Bob 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 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 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.
“Bob was a very charismatic and good-looking young man,” Schnabel said. “He was one of those people that everybody knew, and Bob knew everybody.”
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.
“We just really wanted to show the world that Tahoe is a fun place for winter recreation,” she said. “Also, local people were interested in having a party – because by March, a lot of locals are over the winter and they want a reason to get outdoors and play.”
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.
“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,” 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. “The festival shows a lot of community spirit and I think it’s a good thing for the North Shore.”
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.
“These events give businesses in the community a real boost,” she said.
In looking back, Schnabel said the year – she believes it was 1988 – 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.
“We put it at Boreal where it would be visible from Interstate 80,” Schnabel 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.
“A lot of us that started the festival were young and we’re getting to be more senior,” she said. “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.”
For more information or for a schedule of events, go to tahoesnowfestival.com.