Sunday, February 7, 2016

Winter: Part Of Adirondack Cultural Identity

White Stuff = Green StuffClimate 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.

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Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly news magazine with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues. Mike’s favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing. In 2011, he paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. From 2007 until 2014, Mike worked as an outdoors writer and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake. Mike welcomes story ideas and can be reached at

2 Responses

  1. Debra says:

    Reminder: Snow had to be trucked in for the 1980 Winter Olympics.
    The climate has always been changing and will continue to do so.

  2. Paul says:

    It is interesting how things have played out. I do remember the problems we had with lack of snow prior to the 80 games. Then it was so cold that we had to postpone some events. In 1932 we also experienced one of the warmerst winters on record. See the link below on the history of the games (very interesting document) look at page 70. Under “Unusual Weather Conditions Hinder”.

    But the issue here isn’t the unpredictability of the Adirondack winters it is about a gradual change in the weather. Ice in is occurring later. I would like to see specific data for that it seems like clear trend. The link here has something interesting in that respect it says that in 1932 the Hudson River had not frozen over, and that was the first time in 147 years. That clearly indicates a change we have today. It pretty much never freezes now right?