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Still Festive After All These Years
There are 50 events scheduled for SnowFest this year. From the Polar Bear Swim at Gar Woods and the Great Ski Race to the Stohlgren Brother’s Ice Cream Eating contest and the Joe King Poker Contest, there is literally something for everyone. Many new events have been added this year including the San Francisco Indie Film Fest at Sugar Bowl, the Fastest Bartender Contest at the Tourist Club and the Geo Snow Quest Adventure at the Tahoe Cross Country Center. To see all events visit tahoesnowfestival.com/events.
Tahoe City’s Snowfest Parade takes place on Saturday, February 28 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. N. Lake Blvd. will be closed from the Hwy. 89 junction at the Wye to 1/8 mile east of Jackpine. Spectators are encouraged to arrive early.
These days, we stretch our ski season in Tahoe to the limits, routinely shredding well through April even in a light snow year. But in the 1970s and 80s things were different. Crowds driving up from the Bay and flying in from distant states usually hung up their skis by the end of February, despite an awesome snowpack. Alpine Meadows Marketing Director Bob Everson thought everyone was missing a great opportunity and had an idea.
In the spring of 1981, Everson called together area leaders and business owners and proposed the idea of creating a winter carnival to help promote Tahoe’s lengthy ski season, provide a range of family activities and a much needed dose of fun for locals suffering from cabin fever. The idea was welcomed enthusiastically and a second planning meeting date was set.
Tragically, no sooner had the idea for a carnival been born than it suffered its first very major setback. Bob Everson died in a boating accident on Lake Tahoe on July 4th. In mid-July, the newly formed committee assembled and decided to move ahead with a carnival, to be held in Everson’s honor. They named it SnowFest.
Jump ahead to January 2009. Weaving in and out of darkened office spaces and vacant rooms I finally find Snowfest Director Ruth Schnabel busy working the phones, negotiating a fireworks permit for the opening night ceremonies.
Schnabel and her family moved to Tahoe from Orange County in 1972. She and her husband owned Butler’s, a family apparel store in Tahoe City, for years and Ruth has headed up the SnowFest event more than anyone. As I started digging into the SnowFest story I heard the same four words repeatedly, 'talk to Ruth Schnabel.'
During our meeting Schnabel recounted the glory years of SnowFest, between 1984 and 1990, when the event was flourishing thanks to a brilliant creation called the Gold Pass. The Gold Pass was a limited edition ski pass, which sold out quickly every year and offered skiing to all California resorts. Proceeds from the pass, upwards of $100,000, funded Snowfest and provided a solid and reliable revenue stream for the event.
At the other end of the spectrum was the sordid tale of a character named Lon von Hurwitz who came to town with promises of raising the profile of SnowFest to international status and instead left the organization with $250,000 in debt. By then the Gold Pass and corresponding revenue for SnowFest had been phased out, compounding monetary woes.
After years of success and recognition, including being named one of the Top 100 events in the US by the American Business Association, SnowFest was near death by summer 2002 and the Board of Directors announced its inevitable end. Still, the event refused to die. Local business owners picked up the ball and renamed the event Snow Festival. By 2008, the event was fully resuscitated and back to being SnowFest again.
Sadly, just as the event has been reinvigorated, the economy has gone bust. According to Schnabel, 'fundraising this year is going very poorly.' She is extremely grateful to Coors Light, the major corporate sponsor for 2009. JMA Ventures, owners of Homewood and Alpine, have also joined in and Schnabel is 'very appreciative for the in-kind sponsors and media partners who are being tremendously supportive as well.'
As she explains patron packages and event fees, I can’t take my eyes off the collection of framed SnowFest pins from 1983 through 2008 hung up behind her. They’re a bold testament to SnowFest’s longevity. But I also can’t help think that in some sense, SnowFest became a victim of its own success. No one can deny that SnowFest succeeded in the original mission created years ago:
…to promote Tahoe’s incredible weather and skiing in March, to encourage tourism to the area at a traditionally off-season time of the year, and to provide an opportunity for the locals to get out and enjoy Tahoe at its winter’s finest.
Schnabel firmly believes 'SnowFest brought skiing to Tahoe in March.' But as the ski season lengthened and crowds grew, support for SnowFest from the very resorts that depended on the event to boost their profits, began to wane. After all, Schnabel points out, 'If SnowFest brings 50,000 people to the area, we don’t see a dime.'
A trend towards destination resorts in Tahoe hasn’t helped. Northstar used to be a reliable partner and a very significant benefactor for SnowFest. They’ve lost interest in supporting events that lure visitors outside of their borders and their own revenue-generating amenities.
It’s sad because SnowFest is so much more than, as the poster declares this year, '10 days of raucous, rowdy and ridiculous behavior.' Snowfest will not only draw thousands of visitors to the area this year giving a bump to the local economy, it’s a revenue generator for regional nonprofits too. By paying a small event fee or partnering with a business they can take advantage of the big crowds and free publicity to raise money for their organizations. This year’s beneficiaries will include Pet Network, North Tahoe Firefighters Association, Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue, the Boys and Girls Club, the Humane Society of Truckee Tahoe and many more. But SnowFest philanthropy goes even further.
Beauty Queens in Tahoe?
When a committee member proposed adding a beauty contest to SnowFest, the idea was met with resistance and incredulity. It was 1982, the feminists in the group were offended and the concept almost died right then and there. But eventually there was a meeting of the minds. The SnowFest Queen in Tahoe would be much more than a pretty face. The Queen would be crowned based on an essay, an interview, and more importantly, the amount of money a candidate raised for worthy local nonprofit. The tradition stuck. Candidates compete by selling raffle tickets with half the proceeds going to their sponsoring nonprofit and half going back to SnowFest.
Queen candidates range from sophomore to senior and can attend any school or homeschool in the region. This year it happens that three of the candidates are juniors at North Tahoe High School. (A fourth candidate, Kea Jolicouer, also a NTHS junior, decided to withdraw due to a conflict with the state basketball tournament in Las Vegas. As Moonshine Ink went to press, SnowFest Queen chairperson Joan O’Lear informed us two more candidates had entered the race.).
Lily McDermott’s sister ran three years ago and tied for SnowFest Queen. 'It’s mainly because of her that I’m involved,' she said. In terms of sibling rivalry, would Lily like to pull out a solo victory and show up her sister? 'I’d like to win. That would be cool.' But more importantly Lily pointed out, 'SnowFest is a big thing for this community and it helps to raise the spirits here.' Lily is raising money for the Tahoe City Rotary Club. In her spare time, she’s also practicing for the lead in an upcoming play, is a member of the Interact Club and is the student representative for the North Tahoe PUD.
Sierra Postler also has a sister who’s a former SnowFest Queen and said that was her 'biggest inspiration in getting involved.' Sierra is raising funds for the Truckee North Tahoe Transportation Management Association, which will be used for programs earmarked to get kids outdoors. After hearing about Sierra’s other extracurricular activities, Nordic Team, Drama Club, Youth in Action and more, I extracted another interesting tidbit. She’s a triplet! Did her sisters contemplate taking part in the contest too, I asked. 'No, my sisters didn’t want to run against me!' Competition aside, Sierra said, 'I mainly want to raise money for kids…that’s really the most important thing.'
Hannah Hauserman 'grew up watching the SnowFest parade and it was always a memorable experience.' She’s raising money for the Tahoe Cross Country Ski Education Association which helps pay for children’s nordic ski programs in the schools. Hannah also serves as the Junior class president, works on the prom committee, plays in the band and is a Girl Scout. 'I’ve sold a bunch of tickets so far and things are going well,' according to Hannah. She is really excited to be taking part in the SnowFest Queen contest. 'This is a big deal for me,' she exclaimed, 'getting to go out and talk to the community and meet so many new people… I’m having a great time.'
In addition to wearing the SnowFest Queen crown, the winner receives a $500 scholarship and the runner-ups each get $100.
~ For a complete schedule of SnowFest events scheduled from February 27 to March 8 throughout the North Lake Tahoe area, visit tahoesnowfestival.com. Discuss this article with the author. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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