Climate change threatens not only the winter economy of the Adirondacks, but also the cultural identity of the region.
Lake Placid twice hosted the Winter Olympics, in 1932 and 1980, and continues to capitalize on its history, attracting a variety of winter-sports events such as the Winter Empire State Games and international skiing and sliding competitions.
The Adirondack Park has spawned a number of Olympic athletes. Drive through tiny Vermontville and you’ll see signs celebrating that it is home to Billy Demong, who won the gold medal for Nordic combined in 2010.
Old Forge is known as the snowmobiling town that kicks off the winter with Snowdeo, a snowmobiling festival in early December, but its residents are also proud of its small alpine-skiing hill, McCauley Mountain, which has an elevation of just 2,330 feet.
“We’ve had three of our skiers named to the U.S. Olympic Ski Team,” said Mike Farmer, director of tourism for the town of Webb. “Three at little itty-bitty McCauley Mountain – it’s got a great heritage.”
Winter also is important to hunters and anglers. Every November, the woods are filled with locals who take off work to go deer hunting. Hunters have lamented the lack of snow in early winter in recent years because snow helps them track deer. One of Tupper Lake’s biggest events of the year is the Northern Challenge Fishing Derby, an ice-fishing contest that draws thousands of people to Simon Pond. That event can’t happen without thick ice.
Ice is also crucial to Saranac Lake’s winter carnival, which dates back to 1897. Each February, the village builds a castle of ice blocks harvested from Lake Flower. Saranac Lake is known as one of the coldest communities in the Lower 48. Indeed, the village markets itself as “The Adirondacks’ Coolest Place.”
Saranac Lake resident Caperton Tissot, the author of Adirondack Ice: A Cultural and Natural History, volunteers her time to help build the ice castle. In recent years, she said, warm weather threatened to prevent its construction. She fears that one day the tradition will end. “I just wonder how much longer we’ll be able to keep building the ice palace,” Tissot said.
This story originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer, a nonprofit newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park. Get a full print or digital subscription here
Photo provided by Nancie Battaglia.