Ice Palace construction is officially underway in preparation for Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival.

Carnival Committee Chairman Eric Foster watched on Friday as the first rounds of blocks were laid for the palace structure, which, in time, will reach icy heights toward the changeable winter skies.

“The ice looks very good, and we’re off to a great start,” Foster said. “They are cutting the ice blocks and starting to move them into position.”

The freeze-thaw cycle this winter has not threatened the thickness of ice in Pontiac Bay on Lake Flower, though above-freezing temperatures earlier this week delayed the ice harvest a day.

The Ice Palace is built on a wide shoreline spot there, near the state boat launch.

“I believe earlier, Dean Baker, who is chairman of Ice Palace construction, said it was 15 inches thick,” Foster said of the first ice cut.

The Jan. 17 start to palace construction is one of the earliest in recent years, allowing fully two weeks to cut and arrange the blocks and build palace towers and tunnels.

Official lighting of the Celtic Winter Carnival palace is on Feb. 1.

TRADITIONAL METHODS

In announcing the start of construction, carnival spokeswoman Colleen O’Neill explained how the process unfolds, one block at a time.

Blocks weighing several hundred pounds each are harvested from the frozen lake, much like they were a century ago to provide refrigeration in iceboxes and for other uses.

“Modern equipment is used for the heavy lifting, but traditional manual methods are practiced as well, including antique hand saws and ice tongs,” she said in a news release. 

“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.”

‘CLOSELY GUARDED SECRET’

The palace is architecturally designed to fit the theme for the festivities. It will set the stage for a Celtic Carnival this year, but few know what the final layout will be.

“It’s a closely guarded secret,” Foster said. “We won’t know until the palace is done.”

“The Ice Palace is built by volunteers, organized by a group informally known as the Ice Palace Workers 101 (IPW 101),” O’Neill said.

“The public is welcome to volunteer, and roles are assigned based on comfort level, skill and ability.”

Those wanting to help can go to the Ice Palace and talk with the crew.

Email Kim Smith Dedam:kdedam@pressrepublican.com

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WINTER CARNIVAL

The 2014 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival runs this year from Jan. 31 through Feb. 9. 

For more information, visit the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival website at www.saranaclakewintercarnival.com.