Countdown to Empire State Winter Games under way

LAKE PLACID – For the third straight year, local organizations and municipalities are working together to put on the Empire State Winter Games.

“There is really no one organization that is responsible for the games,” said organizing committee chief James McKenna, who is also head of Lake Placid’s Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.

McKenna and other members of the organizing committee were on hand Friday for a press conference held at the Lake Placid Conference Center.

This year’s version of the games are scheduled to take place from Thursday, Feb. 7 to Sunday, Feb. 10 and will include participation from the villages of Lake Placid and Saranac Lake and the towns of Harrietstown, North Elba, Paul Smiths and Wilmington, along with Essex County.

As in past years, most of the competitions will be hosted at the Olympic venues, and the Olympic Regional Development Authority will again play a key organizing role.

“That’s really been the backbone to having (the games),” McKenna said about the venues.

In addition, snowshoe races will be held at the Paul Smith’s College VIC for the first time and a ski orienteering competition will be held at Dewey Mountain Ski Center in Saranac Lake.

Prior to 2011, the games were funded by the state, which had to drop the event that year because of its financial problems. The games are more than three decades old.

Funding for the games will come from registration fees, sponsorships and contributions from municipalities. The operating budget is at about $70,000 and organizers anticipate that the games will break even this year.

Roughly 1,000 athletes are expected to participate in the games, which is about the same as in previous years.

“We’re definitely on target to hit that same number,” said Kathy Pfohl, ROOST’s director of special projects.

Nineteen different disciplines will be contested, from alpine skiing to figure skating to women’s ice hockey, including a number of adaptive contests.

The organizers are anticipating the return of events such as biathlon, that were canceled last year due to lack of snow.

The alpine skiing competitions will include athletes from the New York State Ski Racing Association. In recent years, organizers have also included more “new school” events with skiercross, boardercross and slopestyle competitions, most coming under the banner of the United States of America Snowboard Association.

Adaptive races are slated for alpine skiing, biathlon, boardercross and cross-country skiing.

Organizer Jeff Erenstone said the adaptive events will feature athletes from around the country. Adaptive athletes will also have the opportunity to participate in a development camp in the days leading up the games.

In addition, organizers plan to hold luge events in conjunction with World Cup luge racing, scheduled for Feb. 7 to 9 at Mount Van Hoevenberg. Awards ceremonies for this event will be held in conjunction with ESWG activities, including ESWG youth division luge racing between World Cup events.

“We’re trying to integrate these two events together,” said ORDA events coordinator Katie Million.

World Cup luge and the ESWG have coincided in the past.

“It’s happened multiple times before,” said ORDA CEO and President Ted Blazer.

The games will also overlap with the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, which is slated to have its parade on Saturday, Feb. 9. An ESWG awards celebration and fireworks display will be held on that same night at 7 p.m. in Mid’s Park on Main Street in Lake Placid.

McKenna said that ESG participants will be encouraged to visit the carnival events and stop by the Ice Palace while they are in town. Organizers are expecting the games to be a boost for the tourism industry while they are taking place.

The games officially begin with an opening ceremony Thursday, Feb. 7 in the Lake Placid Olympic Center’s Herb Brooks Arena. A torch run through the North Country will begin Wednesday, Feb. 6, and conclude at the opening ceremony.

Several organizers mentioned the tie between the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics and the ESWG, which feature many of the same sports and are hosted at the same venues.

“The legacy of the Olympics events in Lake Placid is alive and well,” Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall said.

Registration opened last month on the ESWG website: