Weather delays Ice Palace construction

SARANAC LAKE – Due to warmer-than-expected weather, construction of this village’s Winter Carnival Ice Palace has been delayed.

The Winter Carnival Committee announced Tuesday that ice cutting and palace building would start Thursday morning, but Wednesday the committee revised that timeline. Depending on weather conditions, volunteers now hope to start by the end of the week.

Dean Baker, head of the Ice Palace Committee, told the Enterprise Wednesday morning that the ice in Pontiac Bay on Lake Flower was 15 inches thick, which is more than enough to start building. The issue, he said, is how much water, brought by recent rains, has pooled up on top of the ice.

The goal is to have the palace built in time for the Jan. 31 opening of Carnival.

Last year, that was a struggle. Construction didn’t begin until less than a week before the Carnival started, as volunteers waited for the ice to reach the necessary 10 to 12 inches in thickness. A thaw that brought temperatures in the mid-50s and rain hit the area several days into the effort, and crews were forced to suspend construction. They had to drape parts of the palace in large tarps to protect the ice from the rain and wind. When work resumed, crews had to rush to finish the palace in time for its lighting on the first Saturday night of Carnival.

This year’s palace will be in the castle style and will evoke this year’s “Celtic Carnival” theme, Baker said, although he did not elaborate, in the interest of surprise.

The Ice Palace is built by volunteers, organized by a group informally known as the Ice Palace Workers 101. People are welcome to volunteer. Jobs are assigned based on comfort level, skill and ability. Volunteers often have to deal with cold temperatures and inclement weather conditions, all while handling ice, snow and slush.

Modern equipment, including cranes and loaders, is used for the heavy lifting, but traditional, manual methods are also employed, including antique hand saws and ice tongs. Another manual process which is critical to the construction is making slush, a mixture of water and snow. The slush forms the mortar which holds the Ice Palace together. Volunteers fill countless buckets with water, pound in snow, carry it to the palace walls and apply the slush with rubber-gloved hands.

The Saranac Lake Winter Carnival is 117 years old, begun in 1897, and has been going continuously since 1948. The Ice Palace, the Carnival centerpiece since the beginning, was revived in 1954 after a 34-year absence.