Story by Tim Hauserman · Photos by Mael Passanesi ·
In late June 1981 a group of Tahoe locals gathered for their first meeting to discuss the idea of a new winter event that would draw tourists to the region. One of the staunchest supporters of the concept was a young marketing director from Alpine Meadows named Bob Everson.
Just 9 days later, Everson was dead. Killed late at night on the 4th of July when a speedboat plowed through the sailboat in which he was sleeping. After his death, SnowFest became a rallying cry to remember Everson and the first festival occurred in March 1982. One person in the room during that first meeting was Ruth Schnabel, who would become Executive Director of SnowFest for 19 of the next 34 years.
While to the average participant SnowFest is a 10-day celebration of winter in the mountains, to those organizing and running the event it has often been a financial and organizational challenge. While SnowFest has happened every year, there have been some years it almost didn’t. Schnabel first began helping to run SnowFest in 1984, and for the next six years was part of the glory days of the event. It was a time when the event was featured in national publications, and was the recipient of a large amount of corporate sponsorship and ski area involvement. Ruth left in 1990, and for a decade things went well, but by 2002, the event was on the ropes financially.
Local restaurants, whose popular events are the backbone of SnowFest, rallied together to save it. Key to their rescue plan was to bring Ruth back to run it. She stayed for three years and then attempted to retire. But, was needed again in 2007. She attempted to retire again in 2014, but after hiring an executive director who left after a few months, the board called on Ruth one more time for 2015, with this year’s festival from Feb. 27 to March 8. After 19 years, Ruth says this is really going to be her last year.
“I think it is more important than ever to get out and have fun, and bring the community back to life. We are all in the doldrums with this horrible winter. It takes the community to make SnowFest happen. This should be the best SnowFest ever.”
Even with the financial issues with the festival through the years, Schnabel says, “it’s a miracle we made it through the recession. Many other much larger events did not make it through.”
Much of the survival can be attributed to Schnabel’s leadership/
“Without Ruth’s involvement we wouldn’t have a SnowFest. She has been instrumental in keeping it running,” says Gary Furumoto, a SnowFest board member for eight years and the current president.
“She has more knowledge about SnowFest and how to make things happen than anyone else. We called this year and Ruth answered. She is SnowFest,” says board member Nilita Morton.
“I wish I had discovered event planning in my 20s. I loved that job so much,” Ruth says.
She and her husband Larry, who after 55 years of marriage passed away in 2013, moved to Tahoe City in 1972. They purchased a clothing store called Butler’s of Tahoe that they ran for several years, and raised two children (who have given her two grandchildren).
Now, she is also the Executive Director of the California/Nevada Festivals and Events Organization. It’s a membership organization composed of many event and festival operations including the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, the California Strawberry Festival and the Gilroy Garlic Festival. The group puts on a convention and workshops designed to help organizations run better events, as well as provide a behind-the-scenes tour of the Tournament of Roses Parade. Schnabel says the group’s goal is, “to provide education and leadership development to enhance the quality of life in communities and provide a better understanding of the contributions of special events”
She also had a wedding chapel for 15 years and still regularly officiates weddings.
To learn more about this year’s SnowFest, see the feature in this issue and visit tahoesnowfestival.com. To make a donation to SnowFest, visit crowdrise.com.