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Saranac Lake Winter Carnival set to begin this weekend

Fireworks over the Saranac Lake ice palace (file)
Pat Bradley
/
WAMC
Fireworks over the Saranac Lake ice palace (file)

Saranac Lake in heart of the Adirondacks often reaches the lowest temperature in the country during the winter. For over a hundred years the community has embraced the cold with a mid-winter festival featuring an ice palace. This year’s 10-day celebration begins Friday.

The Saranac Lake Winter Carnivalhas been a part of the Adirondack community since 1897. It features outdoor events including curling, fun runs, arctic golf, cornhole, frisbee, skiing and snowshoe races, a parade, fireworks and an ice palace.

Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rachel Karp notes while there hasn’t been a dedicated economic impact study the carnival is crucial for the community.

“It’s incredibly important to us both as businesses in the area rely on the visitors to be buying things, eating in the restaurants," Karp says. "And it’s also incredibly important as residents of the community it’s our opportunity to get out and enjoy everything that Saranac Lake offers.”

Karp has found that there are core events that draw people to the village for the annual winter carnival.

“Of course the opening fireworks at the start of carnival," notes Karp. "That happens on the first Saturday of carnival. And on the second weekend the winter carnival parade and the closing fireworks. The parade is always a highlight for anybody who knows about winter carnival. There are lots of events, a variety of events for any interest, any age, any weather conditions and a great selection of live music and good food.”

Climate change has challenged many winter venues with fluctuating weather patterns. Saranac Lake, Karp says, has proven to be resilient in adapting to whatever the weather throws at the carnival.

“Events happen generally no matter what the weather is," reports Karp. "So you might see people out riding their bikes in bathing suits in 20 below zero. The ice palace workers have proven to overcome many weather challenges and the ice palace has continued to be built every year. And so our visitors for the entire carnival still come because they know that no matter what the weather is Winter Carnival will go on.”

The carnival has an annual theme and buttons are designed by Gary Trudeau – yes, the “Doonesbury” guy. He’s from Saranac Lake. This year’s theme is “Creepy Carnival.” Carnival Chair Rob Russell says the committee has wanted a Halloween theme for several years.

“We’re encouraging everybody to wear their costumes that they might have worn back in October," says Russell. "Our palace, which is the gem of the Winter Carnival every year, will have its sculptures Halloween-based type of images. And our family night that we have on Wednesday night will be Halloween themed. Our parade certainly will be filled with Halloween type of floats. There’ll be Halloween music. The restaurants and the hotels are doing dinners that are Halloween themed. It really intertwines very, very well to be honest with you.”

The festival’s main draw is the ice palace and organizers traditionally keep the final design under wraps even as the structure is being built. There was a slow start to winter with warmer temperatures in December. Last week brought rain and warm temperatures, but it got colder and builders are now on schedule.

Russell explains that the ice blocks to build the palace must meet a minimum size, and palace builders were tending the lake surface to make sure it would properly freeze for block cutting.

“Once the ice did freeze we meticulously kept it clear of snow and slush so that it would freeze as solid as it could and go as deep as it could," Russell says. "And by the first cut, a week ago actually, we had nine-and-a-half inches of ice. We need to have at least nine inches before we can start cutting and right now we’re at ten-and-a-half inches of ice. So we’ve got a pretty good size palace happening right now out there.”

Russell bristles when the structure is referred to as a castle.

“The reason that it’s called a palace is because castles are fortresses that try to keep people out and we have a palace which is welcoming to invite people in," defines Russell. "So that’s why ours is called a palace.”

Last year the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Committee began collecting data to find out where people traveled from to attend the event. Individuals from 23 states and nine countries signed the guestbook.

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