Walking in a water wonderland

SARANAC LAKE – Cold temperatures, a little bit of new snow and a lot of enthusiastic people combined to make for a memorable first weekend of the 116th Saranac Lake Winter Carnival.

Temperatures in the teens and low 20s greeted the first full day of Carnival events on Saturday. The addition of a little bit of wind made things pretty chilly at the events held outdoors along Lake Flower, but people didn’t seem to mind.

“The weather is not really affecting us, and that’s a good thing,” Patti Reynolds, the Carnival’s sporting events coordinator, said as she watched the Ladies Fry Pan Toss in Riverside Park. “Everybody’s been in a good mood and ready to have fun.”

Reynolds said there was a strong turnout of competitors for the Fry Pan Toss and for Saturday morning’s Ice Palace Fun Run, which drew 48 runners, its biggest field ever.

“I think it’s great that the first weekend is so consistently popular,” Reynolds said. “Everybody thinks the parade is the big thing, but the little things we have all along, we’re getting a great turnout for them.”

After making the rounds at several events Saturday, village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said he thought the turnout of spectators was “about average,” admitting the cold may have kept people from staying outside longer.

“The wind hit me hard today, but I’m having a great time,” Rabideau said. “Everybody’s out and about, saying, ‘Happy Carnival.’ Everybody’s out in the snow and the wind, and making the most of it. It’s the highlight of the whole year for the capital of the Adirondacks.”

Perhaps driven in by the cold, a large number of kids and families enjoyed the games and cake walks at the Petrova Elementary School carnival, held in the school’s gym and cafeteria. People also warmed up inside the Harrietstown Town Hall, where New York State Women Inc. held their annual Chocolate Festival.

“We’re having a heck of a lot of fun,” Winter Carnival King Lee Foster said after stepping out of the town hall.

“It’s been a blast,” added his queen, Cherie Racette. “It’s such an honor. It’s been really cool.”

The cold didn’t keep people away from Saturday night’s fireworks display and the lighting of the Ice Palace, which crews rushed to finish after a mid-week thaw of warm temperatures, rain and wind.

Sunday’s temperatures were just as cold, but the wind wasn’t as much of a factor. A large crowd of competitors and spectators showed up for one of the few new events on the Carnival schedule, Rabideau’s Snowball Toss Tournament Challenge in Riverside Park. The horseshoe-style event featured co-ed teams throwing snowballs at buckets 45 feet away.

“Look at the people here today,” North Country Community College President Steve Tyrell said as he cradled an armful of snowballs against his jacket. “There’s like 50 teams here, which is lessening our odds of winning.”

Asked if he had practiced his snowball tossing in advance, Tyrell said, “No, but we have decided that, as the community college in the area, it is our obligation to provide free frying pan and snowball toss training for the week before Carnival next year. People should be able to get their best game on. I think the strategy is to wear as crazy an outfit as you can to distract the other team because it has nothing to do with the throwing.”

Many signs of this year’s “Under the Sea” theme could be spotted in the crowd at the snowball toss. Calling themselves the Nurse Sharks, a group of Franklin County Public Health employees wore blue vests with shark fins on their backs, chanting “We are the Nurse Sharks, mighty mighty Nurse Sharks.” Fred Lee showed up in a full scuba outfit, calling himself Scuba Steve.

“I swam all the way down from Lake Ontario to be here,” he joked. “I used swordfish to cut a hole through the ice. It’s hard living under the sea; you don’t get out in the world too much.”

Winter Carnival continues today. For a list of events, visit www.saranaclakewintercarnival.com.