TAHOE CITY, Calif. - Transforming the communities around North Lake Tahoe into a coordinated winter festival filled with parades, dog and pet events, and food challenges is no easy task, officials said."We're sleeping and thinking SnowFest! year-round because it takes more time than we have," said Pam Pokorny, executive director of SnowFest! 2013. "It's always on our minds, and we're always trying to come up with better, bigger ways to keep SnowFest! going."SnowFest!, a 10-day celebration presented by the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, kicks off this year on Friday, March 1, and will feature more than 60 activities in which both locals and visitors can participate."With SnowFest!, it's fun, it's quirky, it's silly," Pokorny said.A lot of work goes into ensuring a successful festival, including encouraging businesses to host an activity, brainstorming and suggesting activities to businesses, securing sponsorships, organizing event logistics and promoting the event through various - mediums.Performing the behind-the-scenes work is Pokorny and Ruth Schnabel - who's served as the on-and-off executive director of SnowFest! since its inception in 1982 and is its current executive manager - with the help of about two dozen volunteers, many of whom get involved as the event draws nearer."We're always looking for volunteers," Schnabel said.Back in the day, SnowFest! had a larger staff, with its ranks made up of two year-round members - Schnabel and Pokorny are part-time employees - with one or two part-time employees coming in about a month before the event, along with roughly the same amount of volunteers as today.Yet, in 2000, SnowFest! found itself $250,000 in debt after an executive director out of Los Angeles was hired to run things - putting the event's existence in jeopardy, Schnabel said."The community loves the event, supports SnowFest!, so the community rallied and saved SnowFest!" she said.Today the budget for the event is $75,000, said Schnabel, adding that the most difficult part of her and Pokorny's job is finding funding, a result of the economy and a decrease in sponsorship from years past."We work on a shoestring (budget)," Schnabel said.Despite that and all time and effort needed to put on SnowFest!, both she and Pokorny find it rewarding."It's rewarding to see everybody, to have people smiling and happy and making money, having fun," Pokorny said. "There's nothing else like it."
In its 32-year, SnowFest! will feature some of its classic events such as opening night at Squaw Valley, 23rd annual Gar Woods Polar Bear Swim, The Great Ski Race, Duncan Golf Dog Pull and Tahoe City SnowFest! Parade.The parade will have a returning twist to it this year. The Truckee Railroad Regulators 601 will be in it, acting the part of railroad regulators, complete with cap guns and a western jailhouse."We'll just have to wait and see which unsuspecting shop keeper will get robbed and who along the parade route will find themselves locked up," Pokorny said.New this year will be the Crystal Bay Club's Tainted Love '80s Dance Party, complete with '80s tunes and dress; Diamond Peak Ski Area/Hyatt-Lone Eagle Grille's Last Tracks & Lone Eagle Snacks, combining wine, food and skiing with a "geek" theme; a Mother/Son Laser Tag; and the Blue Agave's Indoor River Rafting Party & Trivia Night, among other activities."What an event like SnowFest! does is cause people to make a decision to visit your community because there's so much going on," Schnabel said.A 2010 economic impact study on SnowFest! found that attendance for that year was more than 25,000 people, generating $3.5 million for the North Lake Tahoe economy over 10 days."It's really rewarding knowing ... it's one of the biggest money-making days that they (businesses) have of the year," Pokorny said. "It's really nice to know that we're helping them do that."Last year, local nonprofits sold $24,000 worth of raffle tickets, said Schnabel, adding that over the event's history, it has likely generated more than $250,000 for nonprofits."It's not just a small thing," Pokorny said, laughing.
The idea for SnowFest! came from Bob Everson, former marketing director at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, after noticing that area drew visiting skiers in the months of December, January and February, but not in March when there is spring skiing to be had.In the spring of 1981, Everson approached the Tahoe City Chamber of Commerce and the Visitors and Convention Bureau with the suggestion of holding a winter carnival the first week of March, according to the SnowFest! website. At a June 1981 meeting, Everson presented his idea to members of the community, ranging from ski resorts to local service organizations. His idea was well-received and a follow-up meeting was scheduled for mid-July.Yet before he could attend that meeting, Everson died in a boating accident on Lake Tahoe on July 4.When the meeting was held, it was determined the community would move forward with a winter carnival called SnowFest in Everson's honor, with it taking place for the first time in 1982."Probably the biggest thrill was going to Squaw Valley on opening night and there were about 100 people there," Schnabel recalled. "We were so excited we could hardly stand it. We thought we had a huge success on our hands." Today, SnowFest!'s events draw tens of thousands of people to the North Shore."I think he (Everson) would be overwhelmed," Schnabel said. "I think those of us who started SnowFest! had no idea that it would last as long as it has, and it would become such an important part of community life at North Lake Tahoe."As for the future of SnowFest!, she said thinks the event will carry on all the while getting bigger and better."Wouldn't it be wonderful to see it go for a 100 years?" Schnabel said.