James Strawser wanted to create a place where the backcountry enthusiasts of the community could swap stories, find ski buddies and relish life away from busy resorts and overcrowded mazes, so in 2011 he founded what is now the Lake Tahoe Backcountry Festival.
"Everybody is very friendly and willing to help each other," Strawser said of the backcountry community of South Lake Tahoe. "That's why I thought we needed a place to come together and exchange numbers, talk about the lines from previous years."
The festival started as the Echo Lakes Splitboard Festival two years ago, but Strawser said he wanted to make the event appeal to a broader audience. After all, it wasn't just about splitboarding. The goal was to invite skiers, riders, snowmobilers, snowshoers and even sledders of all levels to a festival devoted to the backcountry and avalanche awareness, Strawser said.
According to Strawser, they've raised about $2,300 dollars since the first event - money that all went to the Sierra Avalanche Center. The center is a nonprofit organization that provides backcountry avalanche advisories for the central Sierra Nevada mountains and employs two professional forecasters.
The Sierra Avalanche Center website at www.sierraavalanchecenter.org is a must-stop spot for information before anyone heading into the backcountry, Strawser said. All the proceeds from the 2013 backcountry festival will also go to the organization.
Promoting that resource and teaching skiers and riders about out-of-bounds safety protocol are two of the Lake Tahoe Backcountry Festival's main motives. The event highlights the fact that people need to take classes like the ones offered at the Lake Tahoe Community College for an AIARE - an acronym for the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education - certification before heading out into the wild.
The South Shore backcountry event will start with a mountain weather discussion that will be followed by an avalanche seminar led by a Sierra Avalanche Center forecaster. The night will conclude with a raffle for prizes and the screening of a locally-filmed movie. A few South Shore professional athletes are scheduled to make an appearance.
Ty Dayberry is one of those pro skiers who grew up shredding in South Lake Tahoe, but so far he's filled a backstage role with the Lake Tahoe Backcountry Festival. He started tele skiing when he was 10 years old, and now competes in events across the country.
The festival, which he's adopted this year as a class project for the Sierra Nevada College, gives him a chance to interact as both a professional athlete and a event organizer who's giving back to the community, he said.
"Now I get to step into both worlds and contribute to people's safety in the backcountry. (The festival) also helps people who already have a lot of knowledge. You should always be alert," Dayberry said.