Winter is here and Saranac Lake is ready to celebrate
Photos by Mark Kurtz Photography
Winter Carnival is what happens when you take Saranac Lake and throw it into a cauldron, sprinkle in a clever theme, and boil it down until all that’s left is a sweet syrup of feisty good humor. When Winter Carnival is on you can’t walk through downtown, let alone buy a cup of coffee, without hearing “Happy Carnival!” at least five times. It’s like your favorite holiday and your birthday and the most entertaining show you’ve ever seen combined and stretched into a ten-day event in the middle of winter, and it's definitely the most fun you’ve ever had in the cold.
The first Saranac Lake Winter Carnival happened more than a hundred years ago, and it’s changed a lot along the way. Every modern day Carnival has its own unique theme, and the town doesn’t hold back in embracing whatever it is — space aliens, the wild west, under the sea. This year is a fun one, Prehistoric Park, so expect to see ancient reptiles mingling with mammoths for a week-and-a-half of events, games, a shimmering ice palace, and a blockbuster parade filled with costumes, floats, and dancing. The whole thing starts Friday, February 1, and things really take off on Saturday, an event-packed day that’s capped off with fireworks and the glorious lighting of the Ice Palace, followed by music and performances around town.
There’s a lot to see and do during Carnival, so we’ve collected a few of our favorite happenings to help you get started. Check the full schedule for more ideas. Before setting out, be sure to get a Carnival button! If the artwork on the button looks familiar, it’s probably because it was drawn by Doonesbury comic strip creator and Saranac Lake native Garry Trudeau.
1. The Ladies’ Fry Pan Toss
Loosen up your shoulder, flex that throwing arm, and sign up to prove you’re the hardiest, strongest lady in all of the Adirondacks. The men stand idly by as women of all ages swing, grunt, and heave replica cast iron frying pans as far as they can. The faux cookware is heavy but the competition is as light-hearted as it gets — the real fun is cheering like a pack of hungry cavemen as the pans bounce handle over skillet across the frozen earth.
Date: Saturday, February 2
Time: Registration is 11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m., the competition starts at 1 p.m.
Location: Riverside Park, on the corner of River and Main
2. New this year: Skate Lake Colby and Ice Sports Demo
The Lake Colby Town Beach, just past downtown on the left, is known for its beautiful sunsets and prime ice fishing. This Carnival it’ll also be known as the place to try a new frozen water activity. The owner of Human Power Planet Earth, a downtown bike shop that also offers repairs and classes, will have a bunch of his favorite human-powered toys for people to use. There will be fat tire bikes, Nordic skates, and kicksleds on hand. Take any of these for a spin or bring your own to use on the cleared path. And if you do have your own gear (and a headlamp), be sure to do the night skate from 6 - 8 p.m.
Date: Sunday, February 3
Time: Equipment demos are from noon-5 p.m., the night skate is from 6 - 8 p.m.
Location: Lake Colby Town Beach, less than a mile north of downtown on Route 86
3. Arctic Golf
Everyone knows prehistoric humans loved to golf, right? Now modern-day homo sapiens can feel the thrill of putting a ball between the legs of a slobbering T-rex and living to tell about it. Every year, Carnival’s frozen mini golf course is a hit with adults and kids alike. In fact, it’s so cool that in 2017 it inspired an Arctic golf course during the Winter Jam in New York City’s Central Park.
Date: Sunday, Febraury 3
Time: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Location: Prescott Park on River Street, next to the state boat launch and the Ice Palace
What is FlowerBall? Well, it's a sport created by a bunch of ice fishermen who were bored because the fish weren’t biting in Lake Flower. It’s kind of like a cross between curling and shuffleboard, and there’s a bowling ball involved. And a frozen lake. It’s probably better if you just see it for yourself.
Date: Saturday, February 2
Time: 2:30 p.m.
Location: Lake Flower, near the Ice Palace
5. The Ice Palace
If there was ever a symbol of Winter Carnival, it’s the Ice Palace. Built by a team of volunteers (some actually visit Saranac Lake every year just to help out with it), this marvel of modern architecture is constructed with blocks of ice cut and pulled directly from Lake Flower. After the opening fireworks, a crowd of onlookers swarms the palace to explore its sparkling walls and marvel at the ice sculptures within. The palace is open all Carnival long, so if crowds aren’t your thing pick a slower day to wander the grounds.
Date: Saturday, February 2
Time: The lighting of the Ice Palace is 7 p.m., the palace is open all Carnival long
Location: Prescott Park on River Street, next to the state boat launch
6. Winter Carnival Gala Parade
Parade day is when all of the unique threads of Winter Carnival happenings are woven together into a celebratory tapestry. The Gala Parade is a quirky, energetic event that’s a candid display of Saranac Lake’s decidedly different nature. The sidewalks are packed with revelers, music bounces off the buildings, and the parade itself is a true testament to the community’s creative vibe. This year promises to be a real blockbuster — Saranac Lakers interpreting dinosaurs in the Adirondacks is a recipe for dynamic dino floats, tail flicking dances, and a colorful pterodactyl or two that would probably look more at home at Mardi Gras than the Mesozoic Era. After the parade, there's plenty of free music and festivities to be had at the Harrietstown Hall, the Rusty Nail, Bitters & Bones, Romanos, the Waterhole, and more!
Date: Saturday, February 9
Time: The parade lines up at noon, the action starts at 1 p.m.
Location: Main Street, downtown Saranac Lake
Live music, art, and great food are a year-round affair in Saranac Lake.
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