Construction of Ice Palace Begins in Saranac Lake, New York

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Robison Wells
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An entirely different kind of construction project is just getting underway in the small town of Saranac Lake, NY. On January 28, 2021, volunteers began cutting more than 256 large blocks of ice from the lake in a ten-day-long project to build a Winter Carnival Ice Palace.

Residents of Saranac Lake love their ice palace tradition, which requires an expert level of manufacturing talent and plenty of elbow grease. Among the tools for the job, workers use a custom-crafted machine built-in 1939. Those on the job also mourn the loss of another saw they used up until the 1950s when it sank into the lake due to an accident.

The cold poses the biggest challenge for workers. A temperature drop to 25-degrees Fahrenheit shut down the first day of construction.

“It makes it difficult to get the ice out because as soon as you saw the ice and get water in the crack, it’s frozen again,” Director Dean Baker told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. “You’re just fighting it the whole time.”

It could be worse, though. Baker remembers cutting ten years ago in 37 below zero.

Workers use saws to cut the large ice blocks before pushing them with long, spiked poles to a small Caterpillar loader. The big mover carries them off the lake to the ice palace build site.

More challenges have threatened the project. Wet, heavy snow fell two weeks ago; the bad weather prevented the ice from freezing into blocks solid enough to be used in construction. Plow’s removed some from the ice, but the heavy snow insulated the freeze in many places, creating slush.

Baker remained undeterred. In what he called a last-ditch effort, he and his crew cut a hole in the lake and used a pump to spray water onto the surface in an effort to flood and solidify the ice.

Saranac Lake celebrated their 2020 Winter Carnival as one of the last events before the COVID-19 lockdown. This year, volunteers work happily together, glad to see each other out on the ice for the first time in nearly a year.

It’s uncertain what year the Ice Palace was first built, but it’s been a Saranac Lake tradition for at least as long as any of the town’s five thousand residents have lived. The ice palace’s construction continues in anticipation of yet another fun-filled Winter Carnival for Saranac Lake families.

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