Winter Carnival by the numbers

Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival, which wraps up its 116th year Sunday night, lasts approximately 217 hours over a 10-day span. That’s 217 hours to celebrate winter, food, frying pans, lawn chairs, castles made of ice, the Adirondacks and – most of all – the Saranac Lake community.

Tasked with writing a fun piece about Winter Carnival for this week’s North Country Living section, my main goal was to do something original – no small feat, as millions of words have been written about our beloved mid-winter festival. And that’s when it hit me: Tell the story of Winter Carnival using numbers, not words.

So the rest of this column is going to highlight some of the numbers that make Winter Carnival the unique event that it is. But I’m still going to use mostly words to explain those numbers, because I’m a writer, not a mathematician. Don’t worry: It’s going to make sense. Just keep reading.

One note before we go any further: While all of the figures were provided by trustworthy local volunteers, officials and business owners, they are by no means definitive. Exact numbers are hard to come by, and in many cases I had to ask these sources for estimates and approximations.

Have fun, and Happy Carnival!

Building blocks: 1,500, 60, 30

The Ice Palace is the iconic figure of Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival. According to Dean Baker, chairman of the Winter Carnival Ice Palace Committee, it consists of at least 1,500 blocks of ice.

“Nobody knows the exact number,” Baker said. “It’s probably more than that.”

Construction time is a little easier to figure out, Baker said. With about 60 people working for about five hours a day over a six-day period, a total of 30 hours goes into building the structure.

Pans and pins: 1 and 6,000

The Ladies Fry Pan Toss is one of the Carnival’s more popular events, but if there was a group called People for the Ethical Treatment of Cast-Iron Pans, it would probably take a hit publicity-wise. The pans used to break – countless numbers of them.

“Some years, we’ve broken three or four pans and people would scurry around town to buy another one so we could finish up the competition,” Barb Martin of the Winter Carnival Committee said.

This year’s event, held last Saturday at Riverside Park, was different. Martin said two special-made frying pans were used. Neither broke.

“They’re made of steel,” she said. “They’re unbreakable. These worked out really well.”

Many of those Fry Pan Toss competitors were sporting another one of the Carnival’s iconic fixtures: the Winter Carnival pin.

Sporting an illustration designed annually by Saranac Lake native Garry Trudeau, the pin is sold at stores throughout Saranac Lake. Trudeau has been designing it for more than three decades.

So how many were printed this year?

“6,000,” Martin said. “Some years they sell out, but not every year.”

Martin said 600 pins hadn’t been released as of Wednesday this week, but they would be by today.

Parade-ice: 85 and 10,000?

I did a quick, informal poll of friends and acquaintances, and 11 out of 13 people agreed that the Gala Parade was the highlight of Winter Carnival. Of the remaining two, one said the Fry Pan Toss, and the other asked, “Don’t you have work to do?” So I think it’s safe to say that the parade is one of the most important things ever.

Eric Foster has coordinated the parade for the last four years. He said that as of Wednesday, he doesn’t have a firm number of “units” for today’s parade, but it should be close to last year’s total of 85. Parade units include the police and firefighters who march at the beginning and end of the parade, groups of people who march, dance or walk the parade route and, of course, floats.

Foster noted that the parade has grown in size over the last few years. In 2010, there were 65 participants. There were 70 in 2011, and 85 last year. I asked him how many people line the streets for the parade.

“I’ve heard, in the past, that 10,000 people have attended,” he said.

The parade lasts about two hours; it starts near the intersection of Broadway and Ampersand Avenue, and ends at the Harrietstown Town Hall.

Serious lawn chair time: 18, 12, 30

What, you thought a bunch of local women just got together and improvised a perfectly executed dance routine using lawn chairs as props? No way.

This will be the 18th year that the Lawn Chair Ladies have marched in the Gala Parade. Sue Patterson, one of the founding members, said the group started with just 12 women.

“We decided that with anything less than 12, we would look like jerks,” Patterson joked.

The Lawn Chair Ladies have had as many as 34 in their ranks. This year, they have 30.

“We try to come up with one song that fits the theme,” Patterson said. “The older we get, the less songs we do. This year we’ll only do two. We used to do five.”

The group has two choreographers: Cheri Fisher and Mary Heverly. Patterson said they have the ultimate say in what songs are chosen.

“They’re the ones that have to figure out the steps,” she said.

The women get together for eight practices before Carnival. Each practice runs between one-and-a-half to two hours. The costume committee also logs a lot of time sewing together outfits, “anywhere from six to 10 hours,” Patterson said.

The big dance: 16 x 40

Every year at Coronation, 16 high school seniors – eight boys and eight girls – dazzle Carnival-goers with a choreographed dance routine.

For the past six years, Katy VanAnden and Sara Posdzich have been coaching those kids to perfection.

“I’d say about 40 hours of rehearsal time goes into the dance,” VanAnden said. “But it’s probably more.”

Egg-stravaganza: 3,600 of them

The Blue Moon Cafe on Main Street will be right in the thick of things today. Owner Ken Fontana said the scene inside his restaurant will be akin to “somewhat controlled chaos.”

Fontana estimates that his kitchen staff will cut, season and fry about 200 pounds of potatoes throughout the weekend. But the most eye-popping number comes courtesy of the incredible, edible egg.

“We’ll go through about 150 dozen eggs each day on Saturday and Sunday,” Fontana said.

If you do the math, that means cooks at Blue Moon will crack open approximately 3,600 eggs this weekend.

“We’re busy,” Fontana said. “It changes based on the weather. If it’s a frigid day, people come in and sit down and don’t want to leave. If it’s warmer, it’s a lot more takeout. The whole staff spends the day working very hard.”

Holy macaroni: 636 and 200

Nonna Fina is one of several businesses along what I’ve officially dubbed Ice Palace Row. The restaurant’s manager, Jake Stanbro, plans to prepare 636 pounds of cooked pasta this weekend. Super Bowl MVP and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco weighs 245 pounds, so Nonna Fina figures to sell enough pasta to equal two-and-a-half Flaccos. You’re welcome.

More than 200 glasses of wine will be poured today, Stanbro added.

“From 11 a.m. on, business will be consistent,” he said. “There’s a slight lull during the parade. After that, it’s nonstop.”

A beer, or 4,290, for what ales you

For many, Carnival is a great time to reconnect with old friends and toss back a few brews. OK, maybe more than a few.

Adam Harris, owner of Grizle T’s on Main Street, said his beer order – not surprisingly – is a lot bigger for the two weekends of Winter Carnival. Earlier this week, Harris had 4,290 cans of beer delivered to his bar.

“The Pabst Blue Ribbon and Bud Light is popular,” he said.

It’s easy to tell that Carnival provides a big boost for local merchants. But in recent years, a lot of people will tell you that Carnival keeps getting bigger. Harris agreed.

“Every year, since I opened in 2007, it’s grown,” he said. “It gets busier and busier.”

Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or