For most of the past 37 years, dogsled races were the integral component and primary draw for SnoFest, but under the leadership of new chairperson Jennifer Bennett and a revitalized board of directors, Marmora SnoFest is changing and growing to become a true community celebration. Bennett said the committee has streamlined and simplified its mandate, moving more towards a facilitator, marketing and promotional role as opposed to being the primary organizing body for the festival.
“When I came on board [in October 2013] we came up with a bit of a vision for the future that everyone agreed on. I felt we needed to focus on not doing so much hand-on work as a committee because it’s such a big job. There is a lot that can be done within even a small community and we just needed to simplify the process and bring in more people. We also wanted to focus more on the theme of adventure – and the dogsled races are a huge part of that,” she said.
Bennett believes that in order for the SnoFest event to truly win over the hearts and minds of local businesses and residents on a large scale, stakeholder groups within Marmora and surrounding territory need to be encouraged to participate more and more each year.
“The races are important but we think this can be so much more. The sled dog races will continue to bring a certain percentage out-of-towners here but we have to do more to get the people here excited.”
Essentially SnoFest has been compressed into a bustling one-day event, with the vast majority of activities taking place on Saturday, Jan. 31, including the various dogsled races. Also taking place that day are the weight pull, Marmora Scouts Kids Zone, the Who’s Growing Locally/Artisan Expressions showcase, a sno-pitch baseball tournament, vendors, beer tent, bonfires, a wrap-up banquet at The Bunker Bistro and Bar and more. An entrance fee has been abandoned in favour of voluntary donations, meaning the event is cost effective for families.
A curling event takes place on Friday Jan. 30, as do opening ceremonies and the Look Who’s Got Talent show.
“The talent show is in the basement at Sacred Heart church and that’s usually a pretty big event. A lot of people come out for that. It’s got its own organizing group and the church lets us use the site. With the baseball tournament we’re hoping it will bring people closer to downtown so that when they need to warm up, they’re going into the restaurants or going shopping,” she said, explaining that a great example of co-operation between community groups and the committee is the now jointly-held Who’s Growing Locally/Artistic Expressions showcase.
“It involves local artisans and farmers and is like a winter farmers’ market held at the community centre. It used to be that the two events were separate: the Who’s Growing Locally would be at the Town Hall and Artistic Expressions was at the Legion. We thought it would be better to pull it all together because there would be people who would go to one and not even know about the other. So we felt it would be a better experience for the vendors and for the people coming out shopping. And it adds a different element to the whole weekend.”
Bennett also said the committee is going to be more proactive in pulling together information and data related to the economic impact of the annual event to demonstrate to local residents and business just how valuable and significant SnoFest is to the local economy. She wants people to understand that it’s already a worthwhile undertaking that helps put Marmora on the map, but with more community involvement it could become a major showpiece for the community and the entire Bay of Quinte region during a time of year when the economy in general slows down in the area.
“The board is trying to change things up so that the businesses and residents can get more involved. We’re even talking about making SnoFest a month-long event so that there’s something happening every weekend. If we spread it out, get more community involvement it will give people a reason to come out of their house during what is normally a slower time of year,” she said.
“Really, we’re just trying to entertain people and get them out having fun, so we’re tilting it away from being a super competitive event that focuses on just one thing and make it more of a community winter showcase. I think we’re starting to steer the programming towards more variety and things that appeal more to spectators and to participation. We’re started to do that and I know people are already excited about what this year’s event has to offer.”
The sled dog races are still a big component of Marmora SnoFest and probably always will be. There is a 10-mile open event, a six-dog, six-mile race for both purebreds and mixed breeds and a four-dog, four-mile event also for mixed and purebreds. Bennett also said that organizers are going to encourage more involvement through the skijoring race component of the races.
“Originally this was a 150-mile race here and that’s not great for the spectators. So the dogsled races are now more sprint events. And there’s a lot more skijoring, which is when you’re on cross-country skis and you are hooked up to a dog or two dogs. A lot of people like that, not only to watch but to participate in. And the reason we are kind of focussing on that sport a little more than the sled dogs is because it’s a completely different demographic. It’s a more participation and tourism-based sport. People who ‘skijor’ do it for the love of nature and adventure,” Bennett said.
“For mushers, it’s a sport that involves a lot of money and a lot of preparation. They basically come into an area, set up and focus on the race. I think having both is going to make it a more interesting event for all concerned.”
For more information on all the fun, family-friendly events happening as part of Marmora SnoFest visit snofest.ca.