Recreation businesses, events grapple with warm winter
By Pete DeMola, Times-Union
LAKE GEORGE — By now, we should be in the depths of a winter chill, the type of cold that fuels snowy sports and celebrations. But days of warmth are putting a chill on the festivities.
And the weather is melting the hope one major winter tourist attraction will open on schedule.
Construction of the Ice Castles show in Lake George has been pushed back due to the unseasonably warm temperatures, with forecasts predicting a continuation of high temperatures in the 40s through the rest of the week.
“It’s definitely a struggle,” Brent Christensen, the event’s founder, said. “It’s an emotional struggle for all of us.”
This week’s warm spell is wreaking havoc on many winter attractions, including the West Mountain Ski Area in Queensbury, which announced it would be closed until Thursday afternoon due to weather conditions. (The facility also cited theft of ski gear as an issue.)
It takes months — and cooperative weather — to build the towering icy palace. Last year, thousands of people were drawn to the spectacle that at night is transformed with LED lights. But without a deep chill, it’s impossible to get the ice to stick around.
A handful of workers were at Festival Commons at Charles R. Wood Park on Monday attempting to build the icy structures, which are created by “growing” icicles, placing the cones into formation and spraying the items with cold water, organizers said.
Below-freezing temperatures are essential for the process.
“Looking at the forecast, it’ll probably be down to the grass before we start again,” Christensen said on Monday.
The event debuted last year, opening on Jan. 23. The plan was to open in mid-January this year.
Christensen said the exhibit will eventually open once the weather complies. Yet it’s tough to pinpoint when that will happen — at least for the immediate future.
Ice Castles also has exhibitions in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Utah and Minnesota.
“New York is probably the worst when it comes to weather right now,” Christensen said.
Organizers are used to challenges, sometimes having to rebuild structures three or four times after they’ve melted, he said.
Local ski resorts, too, appeared glum but expressed a “been-here-done-that” attitude.
Several facilities said they were still benefiting from a late December blast of snow that covered the trails but acknowledged the mild weather presented an issue.
Paul Zahray, co-owner of Lapland Lake cross-country ski resort in Northville, said he’s grown accustomed to approaching winter a day at a time.
“It’s not what we like or what we’re hoping for, but so far, we’ve had a lot of good skiing days,” Zahray said on Monday. “Even today, we have a surprising number of people here.”
Amid a changing and unpredictable climate, Lapland Lake is making infrastructure improvements that will allow trails to better maintain favorable conditions, he said, “which is working out very well for us.”
Christensen, the Ice Castles founder, also struck a hopeful chord. He’s estimated he’s built between 30 to 40 castles over the past decade, some later in the season than others.
“Winter has always come at some point,” Christensen said. “It’s going to come. If it doesn’t, it’ll come next year.”