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Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Set To Begin This Weekend

The Saranac Lake Winter Carnival begins this weekend in the Adirondack village.  The two-week celebration of the cold is a tradition that goes back over 100 years.
Saranac Lake New York is often cited as the coldest spot in the country, and residents not only take it in stride, they celebrate the frigid temperatures.  In 1897 the winter carnival began as a one-day event to break up winter’s monotony.  It is now a two-week festival that includes fireworks, parades, and its signature Ice Palace. Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Committee Publicity Manager Colleen O’Neill says the final touches to the palace are being completed.  “It’s a very special tradition. Since 1897 there’s been a carnival planned or executed in Saranac Lake. There hasn’t been an Ice Palace since that far back. It’s been kind of sporadic because you know it depended on what was going on in the world at the time whether it be wars. But I think it’s such a long-running tradition that it’s rare to find that and also just the way that we do it. The way that we harvest the ice blocks, you know the different elements of carnival. We have a lot of really unique events. You can’t find it in the way that we do it anywhere else.”

Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau says the Winter Carnival reinforces that the village is the coolest place in the country.  “The Winter Carnival is really Saranac Lake’s premier identity. People recognize Saranac Lake as the place to be in the wintertime and the carnival just brings thousands and thousands of people from all over the North Country and really throughout the United States to our village to visit. So it’s critically important just for our character and for our economy.”

The design of the Ice Palace varies from year to year. The ice to construct it is harvested from the adjacent Pontiac Bay in Lake Flower. O’Neill describes the traditional methods used by volunteers to obtain the individual blocks of ice that can weigh more than 600 pounds.  “We start out with a antique um, it’s a motor powered saw and it cuts, not all the way down because it’s very thick. It could be anywhere from 12 to 16 inches thick ice. So the saw makes the first cuts. So then they come in with antique hand saws that have been used for generations and generations. They’re very long and those are metal saws that finish the job. And then they use what they call spuds which are metal bars. There’s a few people that have to do it all at once where they all kind of at the same time use their upper body strength and push down on the metal rods which then tend to crack open the ice where it’s been cut so that it can get free. And then an excavator picks it up and brings it over to a tractor who then brings it to the Ice Palace.”

Mayor Rabideau says while he’s not an economic analyst it’s obvious that the carnival has a significant impact on the village.  “If we have 12,000 people show up for the parade, which is not unusual, and you multiply that times a conservative amount of $100 we’re talking some money there. And there’s a multiplier effect times three or times five and it really helps out the businesses in wintertime. But more important than that it just exposes Saranac Lake to the entire world in a very special time of the year.”  

Colleen O’Neil reports that this year’s carnival theme is Prehistoric Park.  “We try to appeal to a family friendly audience.  We didn’t have much discussion or debate on this year’s theme because it’s pretty obvious it’s something that all different ages and people I think are going to enjoy.”

The Saranac Lake Winter Carnival runs from February 1st through 10th.