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Ice Palace work to begin Thursday

Bad weather, pandemic mean extra work, new solutions for Ice Palace workers

Two people clear snow off of the ice of Pontiac Bay on Lake Flower in Saranac Lake on Jan. 12 so the ice can be used for the Ice Palace. Construction on the Palace begins Thursday. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

SARANAC LAKE — Work on this year’s Winter Carnival Ice Palace will begin Thursday, but a small team has already been putting in long hours in the cold to prepare the ice for harvesting.

The weather has been uncooperative and there is a global pandemic, but neither of these obstacles is stopping the Ice Palace Workers 101 from coming up with innovative ways to go forward with construction.

IPW 101 Director Dean Baker, in his 39th year of Ice Palace work, said the palace this year will be similar to an older style — viewable from the outside but closed off to entering inside.

They are working with a traditional palace shape, with high walls and a few towers. Baker said the Carnival theme, “Mask-erade,” will mostly be seen in the carvings and artwork on the walls, but he did not elaborate because the palace design is traditionally kept secret until people see it built.

The Ice Palace is one of the only parts of Winter Carnival that will remain in this pandemic year, along with the annual buttons and poster, and two fireworks shows on Feb. 6 and 13. All other Carnival events, including the Gala Parade, have been canceled to help slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Weather

Using some new techniques and spending hours on the ice in preparation, Baker said they’ve got well over a foot of ice now.

Baker said it has taken a lot more work than usual just to get the ice ready.

Though the winter started off warm this year, the past few weeks have dropped to the usual freezing temperatures. Still, wet, heavy snow a week-and-a-half ago made forming solid ice on Lake Flower difficult.

“We’ve had a terrible time this past week. We were supposed to start last Thursday,” Baker said. “Until about three days ago I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to do this. … But it’s in pretty good shape now.”

Baker said the ice had been fine before, but on Saturday, Jan. 16, the lake got a wet snow dumped on it. He said this snow was too heavy to plow off, and snow kept accumulating. Though the weather has been cold, this frosty layer insulated the ice below, keeping it at a slushy consistency.

On Friday a crew drove a snowmobile over the area. On Saturday they dragged a piece of chain-link fencing over the snow to flatten it. On Sunday Alex Madden brought a pump and hose, cut a hole in the ice and pumped water on top of the ice, flooding it. This is what made the ice usable, Baker said.

“That was a last-gasp, a last-ditch effort,” Baker said. “I don’t remember ever doing that before.”

After the water froze overnight, he went back out and dragged fencing across the surface again Monday morning before smoothing it out with a bladed four-wheeler.

Pandemic precautions

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ice Palace workers will have to maintain new safety guidelines. There will be a daily sign-in, workers will socially distance and wear masks when they can’t, and they can’t share gloves.

There is a 50-person limit on work.

“That’s perfect. We’ll probably have more people than we need,” Baker said.

Inmates from Moriah Shock Camp will not be assisting this year because prisons have been on lockdown since last spring, trying to avoid introducing the virus to their populations.

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