Friday, February 24, 2017

The Adirondacks Again -- Winter Carnival 2017

Our trek on a snowshoe trail.

A meadow brook crossing on the snowshoe trail.

I have posted here several times about the special place the Adirondacks have in the hearts and minds of our family. We have been visiting the Adirondacks for over 40 years!  While most of our time over that period has been spent in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks during the summer, we have been up there during each of the seasons.  

Recently we visited Molly's sister Kathy at her home in Saranac Lake during the "Winter Carnival."  While the temperatures back in northern Virginia were progressively rising into the upper 60s and low 70s (and hit almost 80 degrees F. yesterday), it snowed every day we were in Saranac Lake and did not really get above freezing.  One day it was zero with a wind chill of minus 19! It reminded me very much of my youth in New Hampshire during the late 1950s into the mid-1960s. Snow was everywhere and the community just went on about its business. Stores and restaurants opened without a hitch, the air buzzed with the sound of shoveling, snow plowing, snow blowing, and the excitement of Winter Carnival.

In the 1880s, the village of Saranac Lake was a logging community that was evolving into a location where tuberculosis victims could go to "take the cure" in the fresh air of the Adirondacks. The great grandfather of political cartoonist, Garry Trudeau, was instrumental in putting Saranac Lake on the map for the battle against TB.  A tuberculosis sufferer himself, Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau founded the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium in Saranac Lake in 1885 and soon "Cure Cottages" sprang up all over the village.  In 1887, the writer Robert Louis Stevenson was one of the early notables who traveled to Saranac Lake to take the cure.  

The genesis of Winter Carnival goes back to November 1896 when a club was formed to promote winter sports and activities to combat cold weather isolation and stave off the seasonal listlessness that could otherwise develop into a full-fledged case of cabin fever. Just a few months after its founding, the Pontiac Club promoted a one-day event in early 1897 to be marked by fanciful dress and costumes. When winter arrived in 1898, the Club reprised the event, but expanded it and billed it as the "Pontiac Club Carnival" . . . and so 120 years ago a High Peaks tradition was born in a corner the Adirondacks to shatter the grip of frigid winters with a bit of frolic, irreverence, merriment, and north country sports.

The Winter Carnival in Saranac Lake was not initially held annually.  In the beginning it was held about every two years and in the decades between the world wars there were many years when it was not held at all. Then it was renewed in the winter of 1947-48 when WWII was finally over and life began to return to normal. It has been held annually ever since. 

Being in Saranac Lake the week of Winter Carnival 2017, the excitement and community involvement in Carnival was everywhere. As the day of the parade approached you saw more and more people out and about in colorful clothes and fanciful or wacky animal hats.  One often heard the term "north country culture" and it was hard not to be taken in by the festive air engulfing the community. It is a culture that laughs in the face of snow and ice and comes together around a common celebration of winter and all things cold and wonderful. Day and night the village hummed with activity leading up to the Winter Carnival Parade and the closing night "Storming of the Palace" when the community gathered around the lighted Palace in the dark to watch a music-enhanced slide show of the Carnival's various preparations and events projected on a large outdoor screen. The "storming" ended with a long, spectacular fireworks show over the Lake behind the Ice Palace. 

The "Palace" is the focal point of the Carnival and it is elaborately constructed each year with blocks of ice cut from Lake Flower.  The design of the Palace differs from year-to-year and it is colorfully lighted at night. The King and Queen of the Winter Carnival are enthroned at the Ice Palace.  

"Ice Palaces" have long been built in winter climes around the world and in the past were found in many cold-country communities in the United States . . . but today it is said that Saranac Lake is the only place in the U.S. where a "true" Ice Palace is still built each year entirely by volunteers (one of whom this year was Molly's sister Kathy).  Saranac Lake's true Ice Palaces are built entirely of ice blocks cut from the local lake and are not sculpted in whole or in part out of mounded snow or gigantic blocks of molded ice (although decorative ice sculptures are used in and around the Palace itself).  It took 2,000 blocks of ice to construct the 2017 Ice Palace. 

Site of ice block harvesting on Lake Flower.  Blocks are cut and then guided with pikes to the exit channel in the forefront where they are lifted out and transported to the nearby construction site.

The harvesting site with some left over blocks of ice.

Side view of the 2,000-block Ice Palace (2017) 

Inside the Throne Room.

A classic Adirondack Lean-to made of ice on the shore of Lake Flower behind the Ice Palace (2017)

Two Adirondack Chairs made of ice beside the lean-to (2017)

The Ice Palace at night (2017)

On Saturday, February 11th the annual Winter Carnival Parade took place through the center of the village and the route was lined with people two and three deep.

Along the Parade route on Broadway.

The approach of the "Lawn Chair Ladies," a dance and lawn chair drill team club
that is always a favorite at parades.

The Lawn Chair Ladies passing in formation and beginning a routine for the crowd.

But, all things must come to an end, and when the Ice Palace is deemed structurally unsound steps are taken to demolish it and send the ice back into the lake. On February 18th, the Palace had deteriorated to the point that officials had to close the site to the public.  It was still lighted at night and could be observed from behind barriers . . . and then on February 20th the end arrived and the Palace was razed.

Razing the Ice Palace on February 20, 2017.  The blocks are pushed back into Lake Flower.

To see more of the Winter Carnival go to the official website of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival here  At the website you can view photos of the whole ice block harvesting process, the crowning of the King and Queen, many of the Carnival's outdoor sports and activities, many more pictures of the Carnival Parade, the full Carnival schedule, and more.

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All photographs are by the author except the razing of the Ice Palace, which is by Kathy O'Kane, and the Ice Palace with the sculpted moose in the forefront, which is from the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival website.

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Copyright 2017, John D. Tew
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1 comment:

  1. The cold and snow aren't for me, but it sure looks like you had an enjoyable time, and shared some wonderful photos. If you had gone this past week, there would have been too much melting. That is what happened when Lowell had it's annual Winterfest this past weekend (Fri. and Sat.), when both days were 70 degrees. No snow to be seen, our recent snow of about 12" melted in a flash.
    Thanks for sharing your winter story.