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Alpenglow Mountain Festival 2017: A snowy winter brings more backcountry events and the Telluride Mountain Film Festival

From February 18 through 26, the fourth annual Alpenglow Mountain Festival, hosted by Alpenglow Sports, will take place in Tahoe City, Calif. The festival is host to touring clinics, AIARE avalanche courses, yoga workshops and much more. And for the first time, the festival will be showcasing the Telluride Mountain Film, playing nightly. But in addition to a variety of community events, something has happened to make this year truly special: snow has fallen in the Tahoe area in record levels.

We talked with Brendan Madigan, owner of Alpenglow Sports, to find out more about what the schedule of programs holds for festivalgoers this year and what can be expected as a result of recent snowfall.

Backcountry Magazine: It has been snowing quite a bit in the Tahoe area. How is the weather going to benefit the festival?

Brendan Madigan: This is the fourth year of the Alpenglow Mountain Festival, and we weathered two really bad winters. Then last year there was just enough snow to pull things off. The first couple of years we were literally confined to snow patches on Mt. Rose that were at 9,000 feet in elevation, but this year it is going to be great, because the new snow is going to open up our tour location opportunities. We can go down to the West Shore and climb some different peaks than the ones people experienced in the first three years of the event. As long as it doesn’t create hazardous avy conditions, the recent snow will be icing on the cake.

BCM: Are there any new events for this year?

BM: It’s an evolution, and every year we make the Alpenglow Mountain Festival a little bit bigger and a little bit better. We have doubled the tours, because those are the events with the highest demand. We’ve doubled the amount of women’s-specific tours, and we’ve added an overnight trip, which is really exciting. And then we are bringing Mountain Film to town from Telluride, which is a big deal for us as a relatively new event. From yoga every day to Nordic instruction to avalanche education to the film nights, I couldn’t be more excited—I wish I could attend all of the events we put on.

A Backcountry Babes tour heads into the snowy hills at Alpenglow Mountain Festival. [Photo] Scott Rokis

BCM: How many people are you expecting?

BM: We opened up registration on February 1, and we are hosting 25 different tours that filled up within two hours, so the demand is high. We are approaching the snowpack and the snow conditions as a learning opportunity for festivalgoers. Because the event is geared toward beginner and intermediate skiers, if we have a reactive snowpack, there is something to talk about with regard to weak layers or things we can look at in the snowpack that we can learn from. If we have a bulletproof, classic Sierra snowpack, there is also plenty to talk about. Both are learning opportunities.

A skiers makes her way down during a women’s ski tour. [Photo] Scott Rokis

We have two great avalanche instructors: Rich Meyer and John Littleton. Rich is from Rich Meyer Alpine Guide and John is from Sierra Alpine Education. They both donate their time and teach classes. We have 12 AIARE 1 courses. They are great partners and see the value of education and outreach into the community.

Avalanche awareness and practice is a dominant theme of the festival. [Photo] Scott Rokis

BCM: What is the draw for beginner backcountry skiers/riders?

BM: This year will probably be the first year that we crest 3,000 direct participants. Those numbers are padded by the film nights, but there is still a huge hunger for backcountry knowledge, whether it is avalanche education or just traveling in the mountains learning about risk and terrain management. It’s really cool, because people have been coming to this event since its inception, and I have seen beginner skiers come to the event in their first year who go on a tour and thrash. And I have seen these same people come from that point to now being avy savvy and more experienced backcountry travelers who have spring boarded from the event.

Lake Tahoe serves as a pretty background for festivalgoers. {Photo] Scott Rokis

BCM: Does Alpenglow Festival have a backcountry advocacy presence?

BM: Directly in the event, there is always ancillary involvement from the Tahoe Backcountry Alliance, and they will have tables at film nights. When six- to seven-hundred people come to these film nights, it gives them a great opportunity to get the word out about access and safety. But we bring a lot of nonprofits to the festival because everyone wins from that. The beauty of Mountain Festival is that it might have been born from just a few of our heads, but ultimately it’s a collective, community effort from those volunteering their time and expertise.

BCM: What presence does Nordic skiing have at the event?

BM: We view Nordic skiing as an important part of the equation, because the beauty of Tahoe is that when the backcountry skiing is bad, the Nordic skiing is world class. So they compliment each other really well for that complete winter athlete. And then there are people in our community who aren’t backcountry skiers and never will be, like your runners, hikers and bikers. Nordic skiing gives us that additional opportunity to broaden the demographic of the event.

BCM: And what presence does splitboarding have at the festival?

BM: For a couple of years we didn’t do split tours because we didn’t really know what the response was going to be toward the event. But we realized that we needed a splitboarding component. Our splitboard guides are geared toward taking out beginner and intermediate splitboarders because their equipment is completely different and requires a little more fine tuning and a little more scrutiny as to how the gear is set up, how transition are handled in the field and other issues like that.

A splitboard tour explores the Tahoe bc while participants get the hang of their board-specific gear. [Photo] Scott Rokis

BCM: How does your shop, Alpenglow Sports, play a role in the festival?

BM: The primary driver behind Mountain Festival is our community-centric business model at Alpenglow Sports. People have been shopping at Alpenglow for nearly 40 years, and every single person has left their imprint on our shop. We feel that our extended family—whether it’s past staff or all customers spanning multiple generations—have played a role in making the shop what it is today. We feel strongly that all mountain shops should be stewards and central pillars of their community, and the role and input our extended family provides always drives us in this direction.

Accordingly, we feel a strong need to give back to them. I get anxiety when we sell a backcountry kit to someone with very little knowledge, but at the core of the sell is the desire to give back. I sincerely feel that small mountain communities can galvanize and be a force for positive change in the world, but to do so we have to have an opportunity to come together. That is what the Alpenglow Mountain Festival is about.

With more snow this year, the excitement for tours is reaching an all time high, with many sold out before the festival begins. [Photo] Scott Rokis

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