February 1, 2013

Palatial preponderance of ice


---- — SARANAC LAKE — A warm breeze chased off the frigid cold mid-week.

While many found relief in 50-degree temperatures, Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Ice Palace workers here took precautions and wrapped parts of the nearly finished frozen parapets in tarps to protect it from melting.

The 116th Winter Carnival will call all things from “Under the Sea” to the village over the next 10 days, with events starting tonight.

The annual see-saw freeze-thaw is not unusual, even in the frosty pocket of Saranac Lake. And progress on the Ice Palace is still on target for the lighting ceremony at 7 p.m. Saturday.


So far, builders have taken nearly 1,500 blocks of ice from Pontiac Bay in Lake Flower, beside the palace construction site.

Work by the International Palace Workers was curtailed Wednesday due to the thaw. Tarps were used to prevent towers and walls from melting in the mid-winter sun. 

“It’s holding up so far,” Ice Palace Committee Chairman Dean Baker said. “We covered a large portion of it.”


Baker said they have had an excellent crowd of volunteers working the heavy machinery, pushing ancient ice saws and building the ice-block walls with cement made from slush.

“We had a really good weekend. Prisoners from Moriah Shock were here to help, plus the volunteers.”

Ice finesse is still in the making, with seascape ice sculptures set to adorn the inner palace halls to highlight the carnival’s theme.

They are being created by local artist Robin Johnson, who ordinarily sculpts in stone or wood, Baker said.


The iconic “crown jewel” of Winter Carnival is the subject of a new work of history released in conjunction with this year’s celebration.

A 54-page book, written and compiled by local author Caperton Tissot, is titled: “Saranac Lake’s Ice Palace: a History of Winter Carnival’s Crown Jewel.”

“A lot of people had been asking for a history of the Ice Palace,” Tissot told the Press-Republican.

“I did write a book a couple years ago called ‘Adirondack Ice: A Cultural and Natural History,’ and a chapter of that is about the Saranac Lake Ice Palace. That chapter is included in this new booklet. But in the second half of the new book, I have a lot of commentary by volunteers about working on the palace.”

Musings from palace builders are pretty comical, she said.

The book also has a long photo and text explanation of just how the palace is built.

“I also have a section on the ice structures that have appeared along with the palace, to name a few: a community spiral, a pirate ship, ice sculptures and, in the old days, a pyramid. There are historic photos in that section, as well as pictures of ice palaces through the years.”

Research also looked to source what inner spark pushed people out of cozy living rooms and into frigid elements to cut ice, haul it, stack it and slush it with water and snow in a process that takes weeks to accomplish in the dead-cold of winter.

It’s a real esprit de corps blend of art and engineering.


“The first Ice Palace was built in 1898, and they hired ice harvesters to build it,” Tissot said. “And they had professional architects to design it.

“The tradition goes way back. And in that time, they acquired quite a reputation. Everybody takes great pride in the Ice Palace. I think that sense of tradition and Saranac Lake’s incredible community spirit combine to bring people out.”

Tissot’s book is available for sale at the Winter Carnival headquarters across from the palace site or it can be ordered online at: costs $11.95.

All proceeds from the book go toward the Winter Carnival Ice Palace Fund.

A book signing with the author is planned for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Community Store in Saranac Lake.

Email Kim Smith: