Making merry at the Snow N Glow Holiday Festival.
By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Many of us won’t be heading to the North Pole to see the northern lights or sledding down a snow-topped hill. But thanks to the extravaganza known as the Snow N Glow Holiday Festival, a touch of winter magic has come to Southern California.
The Ventura County Fairgrounds are the home for this festive light and holiday merriment experience, which covers several acres and offers a wide variety of delights. Cookie decorating, gourmet hot chocolate, snow tubing, a carousel and even (sometimes) fireworks — there’s truly something for everyone, of every age, at Snow N Glow.
MUSIC AND MERRIMENT
Snow N Glow was created by CBF Productions, the Ventura-based company responsible for popular events like the California Beer Festival, Winter and Spring Wine Walks, Boots and Brews Country Music Festival and the Tequila and Taco Music Festival. Most CBF Productions affairs feature a live music component, which makes sense considering founder and CEO Vincenzo Giammanco’s background in radio.
“I was a morning show radio host at KHAY,” Giammanco explains. “Then the economy crashed and they fired me.”
Giammanco had long had the idea of creating an event centered around craft beer. Despite a less-than-rosy economy following the 2007-08 financial crisis, he used his newly acquired free time and a loan from his father to put together the first California Beer Festival in 2009, held at Mission Park in Downtown Ventura.
“It was fun, but the lines for the bathrooms were longer than the lines for the beer,” Giammanco recalls with a laugh.
Not the smoothest rollout, but the California Beer Festival proved to be popular, with 3,500 people in attendance. It was successful enough for him to try again the following year, building on what he learned (more bathrooms, for one thing) and making the event better. The festival quickly became an annual occurrence and from that CBF Productions (CBF stands for California Beer Festival) was born.
“At that time a lot of events came to town and failed,” says Giammanco. “But we had a lot of community support.” And not just from attendees: He spoke with Downtown Ventura restaurants and bars to build a sense of camaraderie rather than competition (people turned away at the door when the event sold out would head towards nearby watering holes and eateries). According to Giammanco, “It started a lot of great relationships in downtown.”
Those relationships were key in the development of the Wine Walks, which rely on the participation of local businesses to host wine tastings and serve as check-in points, and in other CBF events that had their start downtown. And even after some of the festivals moved to the fairgrounds, their popularity still brought a lot of bodies to the area — people who would eat in local restaurants, shop at downtown retailers and stay in area hotels. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement.
FUN AT THE FAIRGROUNDS
When COVID-19 shutdown everything in California, including live events, CBF Productions wasted no time in pivoting to safe, socially distanced options. With so much parking and space . . . and no county fair for two years straight . . . the Ventura County Fairgrounds proved to be a great location for a new approach to entertainment. The drive-in experience enjoyed a renaissance with Concerts in Your Car and its enormous outdoor stage in the round (still in use for the Surfer’s Point Live concert series). There was also Holidays in Your Car, in which CBF Productions teamed up with another company to create a drive-through seasonal light display.
“We did all kinds of fun things,” Giammanco remembers from that time. “But it wasn’t at the level we wanted it to be at.”
But, just like that first beer festival, Holidays in Your Car was popular despite its flaws. The CBF Productions team built on the knowledge gained and just kept moving forward.
The holiday season of 2021 saw people coming out of their cars to enjoy the first Snow N Glow Holiday Festival, which featured snow tubing, a snow play area and a light trail designed for walking, not driving.
“It was a taste of the holidays,” Giammanco says. “It was a great start but not perfect . . . Last year on opening day, we had a couple of thousand pre-sold tickets. It was 80 degrees outside and the snow melted. It was a bit of a disaster.”
“We learned a lot that year,” he continues. “And we completely reimagined it for 2022. Our attitude going into this year was that we need to do this event justice.”
A lot of work went into this year’s Snow N Glow, which Giammanco, 12 full-time staffers and several other team members spent more than a month building before opening night on Nov. 27.
“We’ve been covered in glitter for weeks,” he says with a laugh.
One of the goals: “Just to put lights everywhere.”
Most of them are found along the light trail, which winds from the Snow N Glow entrance through the fairgrounds. It boasts over one million lights, and they are spectacular: a long stretch of arches to walk under, tunnels sparkling like aurora borealis, snowmen and Santas, wildlife of all kinds, all lit up with festive, multicolored flair. Every twist and turn has something new to delight and amaze…and it seems to go on forever.
But there’s much more in store for people venturing out to the fairgrounds this holiday season.
If you are feeling creative, purchase a cookie decorating kit and find a seat at one of the many tables available for putting the perfect touch on these fresh-baked treats. (Or choose to take the kit home, if you’d like a tasty memento.) Wander through the halls that are bedecked with much more than holly, and keep an eye out for Santa, Mrs. Klaus and even the Grinch. Order up some very special hot chocolate, made with a wide variety of gourmet ingredients (cider and other beverages are also available for purchase) and sip it in a cozy corner in a plush sofa or chair.
But be sure to take time to explore outside, where space heaters and very chic outdoor fireplaces keep Jack Frost from nipping too fiercely. These are also the perfect spots to build your own s’mores: S’mores kits with all the fixings and your choice of add-ins are available for purchase, and will get anyone in the holiday spirit.
There’s also a full-sized carousel (picked out by Giammanco’s wife) which attendees can ride as often as they like. Afterwards, grab a bite at one of the onsite food trucks. And, because music is near and dear to Giammanco’s heart, there will be a live band playing holiday tunes all evening long.
LET IT SNOW
After issues with maintaining snow in 2021, CBF Productions kept the snow indoors this year, building a 100-foot snow tubing course.
“It’s basically a stage built like a ramp,” Giammanco explains.
And to generate those icy slopes, “we hired the same people who do the snow for Disney . . . Making snow in Southern California is not easy.”
Every day those professional snow-makers bring in 60-80 tons of ice, which get crushed and distributed onto the course. There’s a lot of fun to be had sliding down the ramp in a specially designed snow tube, and while the lines can get long, they go quickly. Up, down, back in line, go again — it’s that easy.
For the ultimate Snow N Glow experience, consider renting an igloo. Actually a clear domed “tent,” the igloos are filled with twinkling lights and super-comfy seating for enjoying the festive atmosphere. Igloo occupants also enjoy their own firepit and outdoor seating. For kids, the biggest appeal with the igloos is the chance to play in the snow. For a fee, snow can be delivered straight to the igloos for building a snowman (a much more practical approach than 2021’s expansive snow play area, which was so difficult to maintain).
Giammanco says that the most rewarding aspect of building Snow N Glow was watching his children, ages 3 and 7, take in the full experience.
“Having them walk it for the first time — that was the most enjoyable thing for me. If they’re screaming and yelling and running around, that’s how you know it’s a success.”
He hopes everyone who comes to Snow N Glow will be enchanted by that same sense of joy and wonder.
“Creating memories — that’s what it’s all about.”
Snow N Glow Holiday Festival
Fridays-Sundays, 4-9 p.m. through Dec. 26.
Open daily, 4-9 p.m., Dec. 19-23.
Fireworks displays offered every Saturday.
Private furnished igloos are available for rent and accommodate up to 10 people.
For tickets, prices, igloo rental details and more information, visit www.snownglow.com.