It’s an event that began four decades ago and draws over 2,500 young athletes to the Olympic region in northern New York. The Empire State Winter Games run from January 30th until February 2nd. The regional event offers many traditional sports, but is also hoping a new competition will become an Olympic sport.
Athletes of all ages from 15 states and three countries will gather in Lake Placid at the end of January for the Empire State Winter Games. ESWG athletes compete in more than 30 winter sports including figure skating, hockey, ski jumping.
Games Executive Director Molly Mayer says the event continues the Olympic tradition and legacy of the region. “Getting kids to come out and participate in these Winter Olympic style sports is really what we're all about. And just continuing the innovation that the Olympics has and mirroring what was happening in 1980 is kind of our goal. And I'm going to steal the words of Olympian Andrew Weibrecht. There's no other place that these kids, these athletes, can feel the Olympic experience other than the Olympics themselves, in the Empire State Winter Games. This is kind of the closest that they get to that feeling.”
Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall says the village often hosts international competitions, which bring athletes and their coaches. But the Empire State Winter Games are unique in drawing youth athletes and their families to the region. “This actually brings families here. Many of our international events do not have significant spectator following. You know the teams are here. But you know those are made-for-TV type events. But what you don't see is huge crowds of people on our street. Empire State Winter Games attracts an audience. It attracts the families of the athletes because they are local and they are coming from nearby communities around New York state for the most part. It also keeps promoting Lake Placid in terms of the fact that we are a destination and we're pretty much a year round destination.”
Games officials emphasize that the events are regional, with venues in Lake Placid, Wilmington, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Malone and Paul Smiths. Tupper Lake hosts hockey competition at the civic center. Mayor Paul Maroun says their participation has spurred expansion in the village. “It is exciting to be part of this tri-lakes group that they are really trying to combine into the Empire State Winter Games. And that spurred the Civic Center in Tupper Lake to put an addition on last year with brand new showers and a brand new observatory room that's actually heated off the ice, and it draws families to Tupper Lake. And hopefully in the future we may be we may have some other events like some cross country events. So they have made it regional. It does bring people into Tupper Lake area.”
During the upcoming games, Mayer says they will debut a new category of winter sport. “We're helping debut a second category of adaptive bobsled. And it's going to be a push start category for adaptive bobsled. And you know it's really growing out of the USA veteran population that is attached to sports and winter sports. The goal is that this second category, this push start for adaptive bobsled, be taken into the Olympics. And it hasn't been accepted for the upcoming Winter Olympics. But we're using events like the Empire State Winter Games up here in Lake Placid to test it out and prove a concept to make it into the Olympics.”
Two torch relays begin five days in advance of the games in Buffalo and Manhattan and will make stops in the hometowns of participating athletes before converging in Lake Placid to light the Empire State Winter Games cauldron during the opening ceremonies.