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Building the Ice Palace

Hundreds of hours go into assembling Winter Carnival icon

February 4, 2012
By JESSICA COLLIER - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

SARANAC LAKE - The Ice Palace is the physical centerpiece to each year's Winter Carnival. But the icon doesn't just build itself.

Every year, scores of volunteers put in hundreds of hours of work into chopping blocks, stacking them, slushing them together and all the other details involved with assembling a castle of ice.

It starts with a handful of veteran Ice Palace workers drawing up some designs.

Article Photos

Volunteers fit the block into place, shaving down blocks around it to make sure it fits.
(Enterprise photo – Jessica Collier)

Then, for about two weeks before the start of Carnival, crews of volunteers show up for day and night shifts to help with the various duties.

One volunteer uses a large circular saw, about 32 inches in diameter, and pushes it on a sled across the ice in Pontiac Bay, next to the Palace site. The sled was built by Don Duso's father in the 1930s for ice harvesting, a big local industry in the days before refrigerators.

The saw cuts down far enough that it separates all but about 3 inches of ice, so volunteers can still walk on it. Workers then use pokers to break apart about three blocks of ice at a time, which are then brought up to the site and formed into what will become the temporary Ice Palace.

Whether the actual building follows the plans on paper depends on the year.

"Sometimes we build it exactly as drawn, and sometimes we have to make changes," said Dean Baker. "This year, we made a few changes."

This is Baker's 30th year working on the Palace, and he's been the chairman of the Ice Palace Committee for six years.

Baker said this year there are about 50 volunteers, and about a dozen of them are newcomers. In addition, a crew of prisoners from Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility comes most days to help out for a few hours at a time.

But Baker said they're always looking for more help. The palace is done this year, but he said anyone who wants to help next year should come right down to the site and ask how to help.

To learn more about the Ice Palace, go to



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