Ice Palace construction begins (VIDEO)

SARANAC LAKE – Volunteers this morning began cutting ice blocks and using them to build the Ice Palace, the centerpiece of this village’s 117-year-old Winter Carnival.

The start of construction was delayed a day due to warmer-than-expected weather. The palace requires ice at least 10 to 12 inches thick; the ice on Lake Flower’s Pontiac Bay was 15 inches thick earlier this week, according to Dean Baker, head of the Ice Palace Committee.

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

The palace will be in the castle style and is intended to evoke this year’s “Celtic Carnival” theme, according to Baker.

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.