Friday, February 3, 2006

Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Kicks Off Today

Since 1897 the people of Saranac Lake have been throwing a midwinter party – the 109th Saranac Winter Carnival begins today. According to their website:

The Winter Carnival’s origins can be found in Saranac Lake’s history as a world-famous health resort. In 1897, the first year of the event, the village was already a thriving community nestled deep in the Adirondack wilderness, its pristine setting providing rejuvenation for hundreds of tuberculosis sufferers drawn from all over North America. In the course of “taking the cure” here, many patients experienced a renewed passion for life, and took every opportunity – in every season – to explore the natural beauty that surrounded them.

The long, cold Adirondack winters offered an array of snow-covered mountains and ice-covered lakes, begging to be enjoyed on skis, sleds and skates. Thus, to break winter’s chill and to promote “outdoor sports and games”, the Pontiac Club was formed in 1896, and a year later, they sponsored the first “Mid-Winter Carnival”.

The first Winter Carnival was a two-day affair that sponsored skating races, a parade and an “ice tower” – features that have been, in one form or another, part of every Carnival since.

This coming week (Feb. 3-12, 2006) will feature the “The Roaring 20’s” theme (that’s the decade, not the band) and will include two parades and two displays of fireworks along with:

Sports: Innertube, skating, and nordic and alpine ski races at Dewey Mountain and Mount Pisgah, skating races, snow volleyball, broomball, hockey, and snowshoe softball

Culture: Dramatic presentations by the Pendragon Theatre, a murder-mystery dinner theater, “an old-time amateur revue in the historic Harrietstown Town Hall, a Main Street Festival, a bevy of dinners, dances, receptions and concerts, and a slide show presentation.”

There will also be a display of traditional logging in the Adirondacks at the Saranac Lake Civic Center, but the centerpiece is the Ice Palace built using many of the old ice harvesting techniques:

The palace was an outgrowth of the village’s ice industry, which, in the days before electric refrigerators, harvested ice from local lakes for use in ice boxes across the country and around the world. Despite some refinements in machinery, the Palace is still constructed in much the same manner as it was in 1898, the first year it was built.

Legend has it though that the Palace was created to house the Winter Carnival Mascot Sara the Snowy Owl.

About six weeks before the Carnival, an ice field is marked off on Pontiac Bay on Lake Flower; once a suitable ice thickness has been achieved, cutting with long ice saws begins. The blocks taken from the lake are two feet wide and four feet long, are anywhere from one-and-a-half to three feet thick, and weigh between four and eight hundred pounds!

These are moved onshore via a conveyor belt, and are maneuvered into place with “peaveys” – metal-tipped poles with hinged metal hooks – and ice tongs. The blocks are secured to one another with a “mortar” made of slush. While designs may vary from year to year, each palace has, on average, over 1500 blocks in it, and ranges from 70 to 90 feet in length and 40 to 60 feet in height. Within each design is an array of colored lights, that each night transforms the Palace into a vivid sculpture of ice and light!

Here are some links:

Early Ice Palace Postcard

Winter Carnival Profile from North Country Public Radio

Photo Gallery from the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce

Photo Gallery from WNBZ Saranac Lake (2003)

Ice Palace, a children’s book by Deborah Blumenthal

Flickr Ice Palace Search (Includes Others Beyond Saranac Lake)

UPDATE 2/8/06: Adirondack Musing is posting some photos of the construction of this year’s Ice Palace.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.




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