Saranac Lake Winter Carnival 2009

This isn’t exactly winter camping, but it is cool.  The Saranac Lake Winter Carnival has begun.  Since 1897, the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival has been a celebration of activities and a notable ice structure – the Ice Palace.

The ice is partially cut using a saw that was designed and built locally in the 1940’s for the harvesting of refrigeration ice. It is essentially a huge circular saw blade mounted on a sled and driven by a gasoline engine. The saw can cut to a depth of approximately eleven inches. Since the ice often reaches depths in excess of 20 inches, the cutting process must be completed with large hand saws that are again relics of the ice harvesting process. The blocks are floated to an excavator which transfers the blocks of ice to small tractors. The tractors then place them in locations convenient to the machinery which actually erects the Ice Palace. The 2’ by 4’ blocks are hoisted onto the structure by cranes and “log loaders” and then cemented into position by the crew using a snow/water mixture known as “slush”. As the slush freezes, the block walls become rigid. Ice blocks range in thickness from 12” to 24” and will weigh between 450 and 900 pounds depending on thickness.

The palace design is different each year and generally reflects the theme of the Winter Carnival. This year’s theme is Pirates of the Adirondacks.  A palace is usually 90’ long by 60’ deep and ranges in height from 30’ to 60’. Height is at least partially dependent upon the thickness of the ice blocks being harvested. A small palace requires about 1,000 blocks while a large one requires 3,000 or more. The palace is lit with over 100 colored bulbs using custom light fixtures often buried within its walls. It is generally adorned with brightly colored flags and ice carvings reflecting the carnival theme. Fireworks over the palace take place at the opening and again at the closing of the carnival.

There is a webcam that provides a good view of the Ice Palace construction process.


Winter Carnival activities take place from Thursday February 5 through  Sunday February 15 and include dinners, concerts, ski and snowshoe races,  scavenger hunts, broomball, curling, pond hockey snowshoe softball, rugby, and parades.  Read the complete schedule.


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