Fun with Ice: Saranac Lake Creativity

In winter, our friendly forests grow hushed with snow, and our lovely lakes freeze over. We are dedicated to having fun all year 'round, and that includes a few creative options.

When people think of our Winter Carnival, they think of our snowy landscape. But there's more to Carnival than that. In Saranac Lake, "ice" is far more than something to throw in our drinks. We have fun with it!

ice palace

Our most famous ice creation has a long and illustrious history, dating back to 1898. Every year, its design, construction, enjoyment, and then, destruction, is an enterprise which spans a month or more. It begins with the first block sawn from the frozen Pontiac Bay of Lake Flower.

Generations after the Ice Industry was superseded by engines of refrigeration, we still have people who use the same tools, and have the same skills, as their ancestors. Only now, they are cutting ice blocks with enough precision to use as actual building blocks.

construction begins at daybreak, with heavy equipment (on land) and hand tools (on ice)

A dedicated band of volunteers will work out the upcoming Ice Palace design that is in keeping with the theme of the year. This theme is voted on by the citizens of Saranac Lake. Then the design team takes over. The structure itself is never the same design twice, since the theme is never repeated, and the ice itself... changes.

There is a Zen saying that we can never step into the same river twice. This is meant to evoke the fact that the flowing river changes, moment by moment. This is true even for the frozen surface of an Adirondack river. The ice forms in different layers, and varying thickness, according to weather.

This will create on-site challenges for the builders. They must evaluate the blocks as they emerge from the lake, organizing them for different purposes.

partially built Ice Palace rising from the lakeshore

The building of the Ice Palace is a fascinating event in itself. Day by day, the structure grows, revealing more and more of its design.

ice sculptures

The finishing touch of our Ice Palace creation is when the ice sculptures are completed. Like the Ice Palace itself, these sculptures follow the theme for the year.

It is amazing, and sometimes, delicate work. This is not a job for hammer and chisel. Our artists works with chainsaws. When the sun shines through the sculptures, it is an astonishing sight.

ice sculptures with the 2015 theme, "The Groovy Sixties"

Other ice sculptors are resigned to their work appearing in the warmth of a banquet hall and a short, melty, lifespan. But our Winter Carnival temperatures usually ensure a ten-day run (the length of Carnival) and considerable time before and after.

The 2015 theme, The Groovy Sixties, inspired the lunar landing and astronaut, as seen above. But there was also a detailed Magic Bus, which could be boarded and had windows to look out of.

But wait... there is more. Because at night, colored lights are strategically located throughout the Ice Palace, and the theme sculptures, for an amazing extra dimension to the show.

when we had a Celtic theme, this two-story ice dragon was everyone's favorite

The 2014 theme, Celtic Carnival, created one of the most celebrated sculptures of recent times. The dragon, large enough to peer over the castle ramparts, was a favorite place to have photos taken in front of, which really showed off its impressive dimensions.

Anticipation is high for the 2016 Carnival theme of Superheroes and Villains. What will the Ice Palace be? We won't know until the ice blocks begin to accumulate on the shores of Pontiac Bay.

carnival sports

We don't stop there. Carnival is ten days of fun activities, and a recent entry has proven immensely popular. Arctic Golf is a miniature golf course, with many of its interesting and difficult elements sculpted from ice.

With fluorescent balls, a second-hand club, and a surface that gets smoothed when a volunteer gets a chance, one can be forgiven for thinking this course is already sufficiently challenging. But in classic mini-golf fashion, the course has banks and curves and structures we have to get our golf ball through.

miniature ice castle for Arctic Golf

Choose the club carefully. You only get the one. But it's not a course where careful club choice really helps, either.

Inspiration comes from the theme of the year, but also from the famous structures of history. Here, the popular "Ice Henge" is absorbing all this young golfer's attention.

Ice Henge was a popular hole to accomplish

Does Champy, the famous Lake Champlain ice monster, really exist? No one knows for certain, but this winter version offers a tricky approach to the hole, which is a sunken tuna can. This larger-than-regulation hole is a bit of an advantage.

Arctic Golf has proven so popular that this year will be the first Arctic Golf Build-an-Obstacle Contest. This will be a course to remember!

this is Champ, the Lake Champlain monster

Since Carnival takes over the whole town, there are other interesting uses for ice. Nonna Fina, the Italian restaurant across from the Lake Flower Boat Launch, has a unique contribution. They build their famous Winter Carnival Ice Bar, an outdoor bar constructed of ice.

I can state from personal experience that it is quite exhilarating to be bundled up in the arctic sunshine, enjoying a beverage from the Ice Bar, while sitting near the wooden stove which radiates warmth at our group of friends. It would not work for dining, I admit, but whether we choose an icy martini or some hot chocolate, it is an experience not to be missed.

There's also the Woltner Summit Contracting Spike of Ice Icicle Contest. In which people compete with icicles. Prizes go to the longest, naturally-formed icicles. There are adult and children's divisions.

The winners are truly amazing icicles.

ice skating

We also have the usual kinds of Adirondack ice. Like the kind to skate upon.

In the Saranac Lake Civic Center, Winter Carnival has free skating periods scheduled, along with fun spectator sports like Firemen's Broomball and Children's Skating Races.

the Saranac Lake Civic Center offers indoor ice for all kinds of pursuits, from curling to hockey to just free skating

There will also be ice "in the wild." There will be open skating until 10:00 PM at the outdoor rink at the Civic Center. There will be the Curling Exhibitions and Pond Hockey tournaments on the frozen lake near the Ice Palace grounds.

We like ice.

outside of the Civic Center, dedicated volunteers maintain an outdoor skating rink

Don't miss Winter Carnival. Choose your favorite lodging. Celebrate at a delightful dining spot.

In related icy ADK news:

A hole lot of adventure.

Play nice: A parent's survival guide. 

3.5 icy excursions.

Gorging out.

Toe pick or not toe pick…

A hard water haven.

Dish it out.

2015 Most Popular Blogs
Snowshoeing: day to learn, lifetime of fun!

E-Newsletter Signup Form

1 Start 2 Complete

About The Author

Pamela Merritt's picture
Pamela Merritt finds a library's reading room as exciting as a hike through the forest. She met the Adirondacks in 1999 and declared it "home." She's been collecting stories ever since. She declares summer's hiking and kayaking blends beautifully into winter's snowshoeing and reading to create four great seasons of enjoyment. Her published works display her eclectic range, from How-To cat care manuals to literary short fiction.

Blog Topics...

Upcoming Events

Friday, January 18th, 2019
The upcoming date less then 1 day.
Consummate performer and renowned banjo player Tony Trischka comes to Live at BluStage in the gallery space at BluSeed Studios on Friday, January 18. Trischka has established himself as a wildly...
Saturday, January 19th, 2019
The upcoming date less then 1 day.
Mask-making workshop to prep for Saranac Lake's Winter Carnival. Register in advance. Bring completed mask to the exhibit party on Jan. 31 then wear it in Winter Carnival Parade. "One of two...

Recent Blog Posts...

Friday, January 18th, 2019
Submitted by guest blogger Traci Wagner It’s December 21 in the Adirondacks, the sun rises at 7:30 a.m. and sets at 4:30 p.m.; it seems it wouldn’t leave much of a window for anything to...
Monday, January 14th, 2019
Like many Adirondack towns, Saranac Lake has a hometown ski hill. Here is where local children have learned to ski for generations. Saranac Lake started skiing in 1892 when the first pair of...
Fly to Saranac Lake The Adirondack Regional Airport provides quick, convenient access to and from the beautiful Adirondack Mountains of New York.
Saranac Lake Region Defined by nature, recreation, heritage, learning, creativity, and cuisine, we invite you to explore our historic routes and waterway connections.
Enter to Win Sample Saranac Lake with this getaway package. Enter now!
Sign up for our weekly newsletter.
Interested In
Sign Me Up!