What began as a ski-season gathering for local college students with similar interests has grown into a winter festival that accommodates multiple institutions and age groups, and, in recent years, has taken on beneficiaries to give back to the community in which it operates.
College Snow Jam will take place from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. today at Montage Mountain in Scranton. The event features discounted lift tickets, a rail jam competition, snow tubing, live music and libations. Lift tickets cost $20; three hours of snow tubing costs $20; and the entry fee for the rail jam is $10 with a portion of the proceeds going to nonprofit charitable organizations Friends of the Poor and To Write Love On Her Arms.
The yearly event was started in 2015 by then Marywood University students Frank Winger and Tim Kane, and, at the time, they were looking to have some fun and bring people together.
Winger, a 24-year-old Hellertown resident, passed away Monday morning. The founder and co-coordinator of College Snow Jam spoke with the Times Leader before his passing, and fellow organizer Kane, of Bethlehem, confirmed that the event will go on as scheduled and will be held in Winger’s honor.
“We were hanging out at my house … watching videos on YouTube,” Winger said of Snow Jam’s inspiration. “We saw Colorado State University had a student rail jam. I thought that was so cool and thought, ‘Why don’t we do that up here?’”
The initial push was to set up a rail course on Marywood’s campus, but, Winger said, the idea entailed more liability than the school was ready to accept.
One of Winger’s business professors, Dr. Chris Speicher, an avid skier and the head of the Marywood Ski Club, suggested Winger and Kane take the idea to Montage.
“He was a big enabler from the start,” Winger said of Speicher. “He gave us the encouragement we needed.”
Montage, Winger said, was accommodating, and the duo set out to create a “fun day in the snow.”
“There’s nothing to do in the winter school to school,” Winger said of the contained social circles college and university students often experience in colder months. “My brother went to Wilkes. He’d talk about his friends; I’d talk about my friends, but (it was as if) they were completely different hemispheres.”
Hiring a friend who was an aspiring DJ to provide live music during the first Snow Jam and partnering with Pepsi and Ski Shack, which provided some ski goggles and a tent, the pair of event organizers drew about 250 people to their inaugural gathering.
“We just had a party on the deck,” Winger said. “Montage comes out halfway through the day and says, ‘You guys want to come back next year?’”
Since then, Winger and Kane have recruited friends and family members to help the effort, which has grown to around 1,000 attendants as of last year.
Community partners include Iron Hart Brewing (formerly 3 Guys & A Beer’d), which will provide beer for the event, and Backyard Ale House, which will host a Snow Jam after party.
“Kegs in the snow was a joke until it became a reality,” Winger said. “Now we have an ice bar too. We pretty much occupy the entire space in front of the lodge and deck area all the way over to the trees and fire pit. Last year, we added a stage, and this year we expanded it. We have a 20-foot stage and a 60-foot tent, a heated tent.”
Featured this year are live music acts Sicoli, Christian Lucas and Saxual Tension as well as local groups Static in the Attic and Suze.
In addition to the various winter activities that are available, rentals can be purchased for $15, a modest fee that was important to Winger.
“We wanted to make it affordable for students to go out there,” Winger said. “I remember having $20 to my name.”
The organizer pointed out that the event, while designed for college kids, has drawn patrons as young as 18 — Montage Mountain enforces alcohol consumption laws — and patrons in their 30s and 40s.
The charity aspect, Winger said, began with Friends of the Poor, an organization started by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the religious institute that runs Marywood.
“To be honest, I felt weird taking money from fellow college kids, so we started to pay out a portion to Friends of the Poor after we paid everything. We wanted to get kids on the slopes. Friends of the Poor is bringing a dozen kids or so up during the day, and they’ll have the opportunity to enjoy the mountain and enjoy themselves.”
This year, Snow Jam will also benefit To Write Love On Her Arms, a non-profit that provides resources for people struggling with addiction, depression, self-injury and suicidal thoughts.
“NEPA has a big epidemic,” Winger said of rampant opioid addiction in Northeastern Pennsylvania. (To Write Love On Her Arms) hit home with everyone on our team. We’ve seen friends go through it. I’ve lost a friend. We were doing well for the underprivileged but not enough for our immediate age group. We’re very excited to have them on board.”
The rail jam competition begins at 5 p.m., after which awards will take place and give way to the musical headliner, Saxual Tension.
The Snow Jam after party, hosted by Backyard Ale House, will offer a drink special for patrons who enter with their lift ticket, and Suze will perform again during the after party.
According to Winger’s obituary, posted on legacy.com, he won several digital media awards, led his team to first place in the Northeastern Pennsylvania Business Plan Competition and founded Astronomical Products — where he spearheaded the development of Late-Skate — in addition to co-creating College Snow Jam. At the time of his death, Winger was employed as a project manager by Clear Channel Airports.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Monday in Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Church, 1217 Prospect Ave., Scranton. Family and friends may call from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Nicholas Chomko Funeral Home, 1132 Prospect Ave., Scranton. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to To Write Love On Her Arms, https://twloha.com.