A day in the life of Ice Palace workers

Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Ice Palace volunteer Marty Rowley uses a push pole to float ice blocks down the moat toward an excavator for use in Ice Palace construction in January 2019. (Enterprise photo — Jesse Adcock)

Are you considering becoming a new volunteer at the Ice Palace but wonder what it entails? Here is a snapshot of a “typical” day.

Lots of factors can affect this, as the job flow is fluid given the number of volunteers, seasoned workers, weather and equipment failure, to name a few. Redesign on the fly can occur, too. We never know who will show up. At times there are more volunteers than jobs (yay!) or the reverse.

Creepers are a must on the ice. Good boots, hand warmers or even goggles are handy if it’s cold or windy. Sunscreen, sunglasses, extra dry gloves and coats — you get the idea. After a day or two, you will have a feel for the timing. Most importantly, be aware of what is going on around you. Stay out of the tractor/equipment flow. Never stand under a crew on the wall or on the ice field edge where blocks are being or have been cut. Only adult workers are allowed on the job site. Safety first!

Arrival at 8 a.m. onward: Please sign in on your first day; returning IPWs can check off their names and verify contact info; new volunteers, please add your contact info. Email IPW101@roadrunner.com to receive daily updates. Dress in layers as you may end up standing around a bit. Dean provides rubber gloves; seasoned workers tend to prefer their own. Dishwashing gloves or nitrile gloves make good liners. If slushing, expect to get your arms and front wet. If one of the jobs below appeals to you, ask someone performing the task to explain the process. If all the equipment is in use and jobs filled, please be patient and take the opportunity to observe the whole flow of building the palace.

Buckets and tools are collected from the trailer and taken to the ice field or the wall. On a cold morning, salamanders and heat blankets may be needed to get equipment running so the start can be delayed. The top of the palace walls is scraped off and shaved down to maintain level courses. A channel from the backhoe to the ice field is cut on the first day. Every morning it needs to be cleared of the prior night’s ice buildup. New snow is removed from the day’s ice field cutting area so chalk lines can be snapped for the ice saw to follow. An average of 300 blocks are cut each morning. The saw cuts the ice 10 inches deep in a 2-by-4-foot pattern. The ice must be at least 12 inches to cut and might grow to be 36 inches thick. So now for the real workout! The long hand saws are used to cut the blocks on each short side, then struck with iron spuds to break each free. WE NEED MORNING ICE CUTTERS, especially 9-ish to 10:30 a.m. before prisoners make it out on the ice.

Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Ice Palace volunteer Caper Tissot, using a scraper, levels off ice blocks that will be used to build the Ice Palace staircase in January 2019. (Enterprise photo — Jesse Adcock)

Blocks are pushed with poles through open water to the backhoe, which delivers each to waiting tractor buckets to be taken to the wall for placement by the high ice crew. Blocks are also taken to the crane to be hoisted onto the wall. Ground block tops are cleaned off, any ice protrusions are chipped off, and once lifted, the bottom is cleaned off so the block will sit flat on the wall. Slush buckets can be sent up on the block. If crews are not ready, blocks are taken to an area out of the main traffic flow. Tops can be scraped off, but do not stand where the next block gets slid in by the tractors. High ice crews will also slush once the wall rises too far for the “slushers” to pack the bottom and side cracks to cement the blocks in place.

The Slush Pit: Slush is made on the ice by filling buckets with water dipped from the ice channel and dumping it onto fresh snow and mixing it with a shovel. This slurry is then shoveled into buckets and given a stir. Another method is to add snow to the water in the bucket and stir in the bucket to mix. Quality control keeps any ice chunks and dirt out. The slush should be wet enough to pack and freeze, but not too runny. Check with slushers to verify consistency. Buckets are taken to the wall to fill all cracks. Slushers work from the ground, on ladders or sitting on the wall and leaning down, packing the cracks to create a solid wall surface. Empty buckets are taken back to the slush pit for refill, over and over again.

All work stops at 10 a.m. for hot drinks and a snack provided by Women’s Civic Chamber. If you would like to send some goodies, please email IPW101@roadrunner.com at least one day before to coordinate with them. Food and drink drop-offs later in the day can end up frozen if workers are too busy to appreciate the treats, and we hate that waste! Prisoners are not allowed to partake. Lunch break timing can vary day to day, usually around noon.

Once the last block floating is poled, pulled from the lake and deposited, equipment is returned to the trailer. The open area is blocked off with rope strung between half-blocks and open water or thin ice. An opening is left if slush makers are still in production. Once they finish, all buckets are emptied where the frozen slush won’t be in the way and the empty buckets stacked and returned to the trailer with mixers and shovels. When the site is cleared, equipment put away and tractors parked we are done for the day — usually around 2 or 3 p.m., but again, lots of factors change the time daily.

Night work is tricky to arrange, but if the call-out receives enough response, we will schedule it for the next evening.

Winter Carnival Ice Palace volunteers apply slush to stick ice blocks together in January 2019 in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Jesse Adcock)

Thanks to all who help create our wonderful Carnival palaces!

Pat Carnell lives in Saranac Lake.

Winter Carnival Ice Palace volunteer Joe Plumb receives an ice block at lofty heights in January 2019. (Enterprise photo — Jesse Adcock)


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