Producing on Snow 101
Jereb Carter is currently working with Symbiotic Events, a company based out of Colorado specializing in winter on-snow events such as Burton US OPEN, Winter Wonder Grass, and ESPN's Winter X Games in Aspen. In addition to these, Jereb has also worked on Honda's Ski Tour, Jeep's King of the Mountain Series, 48STRAIGHT, Breckenridge Spring Fever, Aspen's Hifi Concert Series, and Telluride Ski Resort's Mid Mountain concerts - all on-snow events.
Previously, Jereb was a Touring Production Manager for 24 years, working with Slightly Stoopid, Snoop Dogg, Bob Marley's Roots Rock Reggae tour, Michael Franti & Spearhead, The Flight of the Concords, Galactic, Of Monsters and Men, and String Cheese Incident. He has, “been around the block a few times, but feels most at home on the snow;" where he has been producing events for 15 plus years.
As event producers, we all abide by the golden rule: be prepared. We put plans in place for changes in weather, artist cancellations, and safety. Preparedness is taken to a whole new level when producing on the snow. Each time Jereb works on the snow, he faces a new challenge. He's experienced various winter conditions from no snow to 25 feet of snow in a week, and everything in between.
One of his favorite snow events is Aspen’s Winter X Games, where Jereb has taken on several roles and has built up this niche experience. He most recently acted as the Production Manager and Visual Designer for the music venue alongside ESPN's Team of Jen Reiber and Siara Anderson. They do a great job of producing the concerts.
[NOTE: X Games will be continuing its 20-year run this year with COVID protocols set in place. However, the event will no longer be open to the public. This year will not have any concerts performed from Buttermilk Mountain. Jereb is hoping it will return to its former glory in 2022.]
While only about 7,000 fans watch the concerts at X Games in person, footage of the shows is often included in the TV production, which is seen by 14 million viewers at home. Many big-name artists want to play at X Games for that reason and because the event itself is big, bright, and extreme. So it's crucial for everyone working the event to bring their A-Game and treat each act and performance as if it is taking place in a stadium - a stadium built on snow - with all of the lights, video, and special effects fans expect in a stadium-level production. The fan experience is one of a kind and is what keeps Jereb coming back for more.
Load-in for any event often feels like organized chaos; adrenaline is high as event professionals set up the site. However, on snow, everyone is at the mercy of the environment, and load-in can last for weeks as the site is literally sculpted out of snow. On snow, there are several unique elements added to the process. As Jereb recounts, "The unknown elements are the beasts, and we are the zookeepers." Snow is the primary tool when creating the look and feel of the event. Viewing areas, jumps, and walkways are made using snow. Snow also establishes the structure for components such as the stage.
Before building the stage, a foundation of snow must be created that is strong enough to withstand two snowcats that will parade the 80,000 lb structure to its temporary home, in addition to the structure itself. To create a snow base that is strong enough to withstand a bullet, the sculpted snow must stay under 22 degrees for 8 hours for the snow to bond together. Mother Nature is not always compliant to create the perfect conditions. Production workers must strategically plan their build to capture a day with ideal temperatures. To allow time to maximize the success of the event, load-in typically starts taking place two to three weeks out and often at 5 AM to ensure there is no melting.
Snow producers pray to the mythical snow god Ullr for the perfect snow conditions:
A lot of snow leading up to load-in
Freezing temperatures and no snow for load-in and show days
Cold and sunny load-out
When Ullr does not answer these wishes, several things could go wrong, including melting. Any repairs due to melting or other factors must occur between 5 and 8 AM before the general public comes to ski and snowboard for the day. In most cases, the mountain is fully operational in the days leading up to the event, meaning skiers are present!
Jereb's key lessons for producing on snow:
PPPPPP: know the 6 P's and use them; then double them and set a reminder every day at 5 PM for two weeks to double-check the conditions, the snow depth, and the forecast. Always have a plan B and time to start earlier because you can't make up lost time. Getting a stuck semi out of 3 ft of mud and slush isn't fun, trust me! However, while having your stage sit there for an extra week may not always be possible or cost-effective, it could make the difference of having a show or not.
Crew: do yourself a favor and start by hiring snow pros (aka snowgangstas) - having a team experienced in the snow is a huge asset. Some of the crew I work with on snow have been doing it with me for 15+ years. If they are not comfortable working in a blizzard outdoors for 16 hours at a time, I don't hire them..
Logistics: know what you need to move, how heavy it is, and how you will get it there. When you are on a mountain, everything arrives on the pavement; its final destination could be up to a mile away in some cases. It's your job to get it to its activation zone. Trying to figure out how to get mobile stages on snow is a massive undertaking. The conditions need to be just right, and if it's not cold, you're going to need more heavy equipment to support your move. It could take two snowcats, a winch cat, a mini excavator, and the semi's tires chained up to just get it to move 100 feet. It's cold (like 12 degrees) and not snowing; you might be able to drive all your gear up on the snow without an issue. In some cases, it can take several cross-loads to get the rest of the gear in. The only load-in that compares to this is cross-loading Red Rocks from an 8-truck tour.
Heat: Plan to heat your bands, your offices, your dressing rooms, everything! Remember, it's cold out and not your typical HVAC indoor environment. Make sure you have the heaters needed to combat the cold weather and the propane to support them! Wear proper footwear, change your socks often, and keep your feet dry. That is likely the most important thing you should take away from this, keep yo' damn feet dry!
Be aware of elements and how they can work against you: such as a hammer getting lost in a whiteout. In a blizzard, you can get up to an inch of snow an hour. Sometimes you come back the next day, and there is a foot and a half of new snow, so you need all hands on deck to find your dang hammer, not to mention shovel off the roof, walkways, and access to the stage.
Favorite artist memories in snow:
Questlove of the Roots at Wagner Park in Aspen for one of the first X Games concerts performing with 2 inches of snow on his head!
Juliet Lewis and the Licks started a snowball fight on stage with the fans leaving amps and instruments coated with snow. ( and they were the opener)
I once gave Common my gloves for this show, and he kept them. Now I always bring extra gloves, coats, and Socks!
Jereb has most recently started as a venue manager at the Transfer Warehouse in his hometown of Telluride, Colorado, while he waits for festivals to return. As event professionals, we often say our line of work is in our blood. This is very literal for Jereb as he has learned that he had a great grandfather who worked at the same venue in 1907. The Transfer Warehouse has been nurturing and promoting events during this time, doing whatever they can to keep it up and running. As a town native, Jereb is proud to share that they have events operating in groups of up to 75 (in a 450 cap venue) with great caution and strict COVID protocols in place. There are dance companies that can perform, musicians can share their love of music, movies under the stars, and even an apres-ski series coming in late winter. The support for the live entertainment community has been overwhelming. Grants and resources have been distributed to many deserving individuals during this challenging time. Some of these grants have helped this venue to stay open in hard times. It's one of a kind venue, and all of Jereb's outdoor winter event experience has made this fit a no brainer!
While it may not be until 2022 when fans return to X Games Aspen or Summer/Fall of this year for Music Festivals, the way we produce shows will be different. We are ALL starting over again. We ALL must work together to learn new best practices. "The reason why we do what we do is for the fans. They are the pulse of every event."