Ice cream, snow queens and Vulcans: SnowFest! celebrates 34th year
For 34 years, the first week of March has meant SnowFest! for North Lake Tahoe and Truckee. SnowFest! means fireworks and skiers parading to the bottom of Squaw Valley while holding torchlights. It means swimmers attempting to swim faster then any of the other fools in the icy cold water at Gar Woods. And, of course, it means hundreds of viewers cheering their friends and family marching in our charming Tahoe City and Kings Beach parades. It's 10 days packed with dozens of events designed to give folks a chance to have some fun and connect with friends. BOB EVERSON'S VISION SnowFest! began in the mind of Bob Everson, who in 1981 was marketing director at Alpine Meadows. He made a proposal to the North Tahoe Chamber of Commerce and Visitors and Convention Bureau for a March event to attract people to North Lake Tahoe. In those days, the ski areas were busy from Christmas through the end of February, but then traffic began to drop off, even though in most cases the snow depth hadn't yet reached its peak. Everson knew that if you could just entice people up here, they would discover the skiing is usually awesome in March. A group of locals including Everson met for the first time to discuss the idea in June 1981, and 10 days later, Everson tragically died. As he slept on his boat attached to a buoy on that Fourth of July night, a boat plowed right through his vessel. At its next meeting, just a few days after Everson's death, the group was spurred to make the event happen in his honor, and the first SnowFest! was held in 1982. Since, SnowFest! has become an important part of the Lake Tahoe lifestyle. CREATING MEMORIES SnowFest! has always been about a variety of events to satisfy a wide range of folks, whether they want to party like it's 1999, join in a competition or just enjoy being part of something exotic such as the Gar Woods Polar Bear Swim. You can also find lots of good food, and you can dress up Hawaiian and head for the Sunnyside Luau, where you will find delicious aloha concoctions, a hula pie-eating contest and Hula Hoop contest. You can find stick-to-your-ribs fare at the Bridgetender's Rib Fest. Or for seafood, you can head to the Za's Clam Bake. SnowFest! also specializes in the quirky. Like any winter festival should have, there is a Snow Sculpting Contest, but SnowFest! also has a Snow-making contest, a Dress Up your Dog Contest, Paint the Bear Contest, Dog Pull and that ever-popular Ice Cream Eating Contest. Oh yeah, and don't forget the Polar Bear swim. There really is something for everyone. But for those of us who have been around for years, what SnowFest! is really all about is a gathering of community and the creation of new SnowFest! memories. It's a time to hang with your Tahoe buds and be reminded of the wonderful place we live. It's a chance for generations to join together to have fun. And, since it's been around for 34 years, it's a chance for the children of young parents to experience what their parents experienced as children. 'CRAZY, COMPETITIVE FUN ENVIRONMENT' If you grew up in North Tahoe, SnowFest! is in your blood, long after you left town for college and life in the big city. My 22-year-old daughter, Hannah Hauserman, who now lives in Los Angeles, remembers as a small child, "catching the candy and watching the Queen" at the Tahoe City parade. She remembers "the guys with the shovels" (The Kiwanis' synchronized snow-shoveling team that will appear again this year) and "hiding every time the scary guys with black paint came close." Those scary guys were the Vulcans from the St. Paul Winter Carnival, who would come to the event sharing good cheer and a healthy dose of black paint, which they reserved for the faces of females of all ages. "I also walked in the parade a few times as a Girl Scout," Hannah says. "We felt a little famous in our small town." While Casey Canino, who now lives in New York, also remembers how important it was to avoid those guys with the black paint, what she remembers most was the Ice Cream Eating contest. "I don't think I've ever been in a more crazy, competitive, fun environment then when those hilarious parents were egging their kids on to eat so much ice cream," Casey says. One of the biggest ice cream eaters was one of Casey's classmates at Tahoe Community Nursery School, now-25-year-old Eric Holman, who says, "I will never forget the elated feeling of hoisting the hard-earned first place plaque held between still sticky fingers, even though I had a wicked brain freeze." THE VULCAN CREWE So who are those guys with the black paint who those Tahoe girls remember so well from their childhood? They are members of the St. Paul Winter Carnival Krewe, and this year the seven of them will be the grand marshalls of SnowFest!. The Krewe — or Vulcans to many of us — are a group of guys from Minnesota who have traveled for 30 years to be a lively and fun … and a memorable part of the parades and events during SnowFest!. For the Vulcan named Sparky, also known as Steve Frattalone, this will be his 23rd year coming out to Tahoe to be a part of SnowFest!. "The community of North Lake Tahoe are very, very dear friends," he says. "We love to help them celebrate SnowFest!, and we are so glad when we see the people there." Every year the Vulcans travel at their own expense, paying hefty sums for airfare, lodging and the cost of attending every event they can stuff into their busy schedule. But for them, it is money well spent, because they are invested in North Lake Tahoe. How did they start coming here in the first place? Frattalone blames it on current SnowFest! Executive Director Ruth Schnabel. When she was a child, Schnabel loved attending the St. Paul Winter Carnival, the home base of the Vulcans. As SnowFest! director in 1985, she was attending an International Event Festival in Milwaukee and met a Vulcan, who she convinced needed to come out to SnowFest! with some of his Vulcan buddies. Thirty years later, they are still at it, including one of the originals, Bob Matson, who has been coming to North Tahoe each of the last 30 years. Every few years, the Vulcans bring along a rookie, whose indoctrination ceremony is swimming in the famous Gar Woods Polar Bear Swim. Of course, to a true Minnesotan, that's like taking a dip in the warm waters of the tropics. 'IT'S GOING TO BE FUN' Schnabel has been the Director of SnowFest! off and on for 19 of its 34 years. Every year the SnowFest! Queen candidates are interviewed by SnowFest!, and she says that one question always asked of the girls is: What is their favorite SnowFest! memory? Schnabel says that invariably they answer the parade and the Ice Cream Eating contest. But the girls running for SnowFest! Queen also vividly remember the moment they decided they wanted to be SnowFest! Queen. For most, it was when as little girls they looked up at the Queen wearing a tiara smiling and waving at them as she rode by in the parade. And, while SnowFest! certainly brings fun times and great memories, Schnabel says it also brings money to our community. SnowFest! commissioned an economic impact study of the event in 2010, organized by Washington-based survey firm Birchhill Enterprises, and carried out by students at Sierra Nevada College. More than 500 people and businesses were interviewed, and it was determined the impact of SnowFest! on the economy that year was nearly $3.5 million. "I'm excited about SnowFest! this year because I feel like the community is in the doldrums after the winter we've had," Schnabel says. "Not only will SnowFest! bring out-of-town visitors to the area, but it will give locals a chance to celebrate life at Tahoe. It's going to be fun." For a full schedule of SnowFest! events visit http://www.tahoesnowfestival.com. Tim Hauserman, a nearly lifelong resident of Tahoe City, is a freelance author and cross-country ski instructor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.