Did you know that Tahoe’s SnowFest! Is part of a long and old tradition across much of the northern hemisphere?
Snow Festivals Across History
Many countries and cities across the north host snow festivals annually, many dating back over 200 years. These events have many different names such as winter festival, winter carnival, snow festival, or frost fair. They are usually an outdoor cold weather celebration that occurs in areas where winter is long or severe, such as Siberia, Scandinavia, Canada and the northern United States.
Our Local SnowFest! Is considered the second largest snow festival in the country but it shares many similarities in origin, organization, and mythology with its northern neighbors.
The World’s largest winter carnival takes place in Quebec City, Canada. The Winter Carnival dates back to 1894. The carnival was created by Frank Carrel, the owner of the local newspaper, The Quebec Telegraph, to break the tedium of winter. The event today is the largest winter carnival in the world with over 475 tons of water used each year to create snow sculptures, including a massive ice palace. There are various competitions, such as dog sledding, canoe and sleigh racing, a night parade, ushered in by the carnival mascot, a character known as the Bonhomme, and his naughty knights. Many of the festival’s themes are similar to that of Mardis Gras, possibly due to the French and catholic influences in French Canada.
The Largest winter festival in the United States takes place every January in St. Paul, Minnesota This festival got its start in much the same way; a newspaper and a group of businessmen. In the late 1880s an East coast newspaper insulted the Minnesota winters as being as bad as living in Siberia, and so a group of local businessmen from St. Paul decided to retaliate by creating a wintertime festival which would showcase all the beauty of Minnesota winters. They worked with the City of Montreal which already had a winter carnival in place and got the architect from Montreal’s festival to build them an ice castle. The ice castle has become an iconic structure for the St. Paul Winter Carnival.
The Saint Paul Festival mirrors its northern counterparts with characters such as a King Boreas and the Queen of the Snows as well as the mischievous Fire King and his Vulcan Krewe who were created from the Germanic tradition of the energy and disruption which springtime brings to the final days of winter. All which follow in the Mardis Gras tradition.
The History of SnowFest! Tahoe
According to local historian, Mark McLaughlin, our very own snow festival got its start in Truckee in the 1890s. Charles F. McGlashan (another newspaper owner and business man) believed that the ‘vast snowfields of the Truckee Basin’ would be able to attract tens of thousands of visitors in the winter months, making the region a tourist destination year round. With this in mind, he worked with other local businessmen to create the Truckee annual Ice Carnival, which featured an ice palace and parade.
By 1898, McGlashan was promoting the ice carnival across the Bay Area and organizing group excursions to the mountains. For the next 20 years, the winter carnival attracted winter tourists and set the stage for today’s booming winter sports economy in the Truckee-Lake Tahoe region. It is not clear when the Truckee ice carnival ended but it is possible the depression and WWII halted the event (which was the case in both Quebec and St. Paul.)
In the spring of 1981, the idea of a winter festival was reborn. Bob Everson, Marketing Director at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, approached the Tahoe City Chamber of Commerce and the Visitors & Convention Bureau suggesting the area host a winter carnival to encourage visitors in March.
Local businessmen and women from the ski industry, local merchants, and lodging merchants, held a meeting in mid-June of that year and agreed that the idea was a good one. Unfortunately, Bob was killed in a boating accident shortly after the first meeting, and as a result, at the next meeting, it was determined that the community would move forward with an event called “SnowFest!” in honor of Everson.
The mission of SnowFest! was to promote Tahoe’s incredible weather and skiing early in March, as well as encourage tourism in a traditionally slow time for the area. The festival boasts several similarities to its northern counterparts.
The Tahoe SnowFest! Is led by Old Man Winter, and Snow Slippery and his mischievous miners krewe. These characters are based on an old legend. The story goes that Old Man Winter froze the lake year around but while burrowing, Snow Slippery found the Miners in the mines of the Comstock in Virginia City. He brought the Miner krewe to the lake and the heat they brought with them from the mines returned the seasons to Lake Tahoe. The krewe of miners is accompanied by the St. Paul’s Fire King and his Vulcan krewe who attend Tahoe’s SnowFest! every year, because it is considered the second largest snow festival in the U.S.
Each year, a Snow Queen is crowned from local high school girls who are supported by non-profits such as the Project Graduation to Rotary, Kiwanis, North Tahoe High School Band Program. Our very own SnowFest! carries many similar themes to events in other parts of the world such as a host of characters, Mardis Gras beads and krewes, ice sculptures, snow events, parades, and a Snow Queen.
SnowFest! has developed into an annual ten-day winter festival with many iconic events such as the Garwood’s Polar Bear Swim, the River Ranch Snow Sculpture Contest, The Squaw Valley Torch Light Parade, and the firehouse Pancake Breakfast to name a few. The event supporting local non-profits, public programs, and student organizations as well as highlighting the best of North Lake Tahoe’s winter activities and communities. For all the event information visit the website: tahoesnowfest.org