Gotta love that snow.
It was skied and skated on, tramped on with snowshoes, scoured for animal tracks, rolled into snowmen and formed into a fast sledding hill Sunday afternoon in the Saratoga Spa State Park.
Under bright sunshine that made some of the outdoor enthusiasts actually sweat, the Celebration for Preservation 2008 Winter Festival brought skiers, families, singers, dogs, and even fire throwers to the warming hut area along the park’s Avenue of the Pines. Sponsored by the Saratoga Sport and Social Club, the daylong event was a benefit for Saratoga Preserving Land and Nature, a land trust formed to protect farmland, wildlife habitat, waterways and other open spaces.
Parents cheerfully doled out $10 per family to enter the area, then led their kids by their mittens to suit up in ridiculously tiny snowshoes.
“Kids as young as 4 years old can snowshoe,” said Brian Booth, customer service manager for Upside Over snow gear in Saratoga Springs. “They dive right in and don’t make a big deal of it.”
Booth offered a bit of advice for first-timers.
“The key isn’t how much snow there is, or if it’s packed or powder,” said Booth. “The trick is staying warm, and you can only do that if you keep moving.”
John Rockwell of Saratoga Springs was one of 41 cross-country skiers who joined the 5K race through the winding paths of the park’s wide open fields. Before the noon race, he worked on his secret weapon: waxing his skies.
“Waxing is critical, because there’s a variety of snow out on the course,” said Rockwell, who decided to ski in the park rather than drive out of Saratoga for a day of exercise. “The warm snow in the sun is wet, but in the shade, it’s going to be slick. Your skies have to be ready to handle both.”
Performance artists with Shilly Shally Fire Arts stayed warm by keeping their hands — and mouths — close to the fire. The foursome of twentysomethings juggled fire balls, tossed blazing hoops, and performed the ultimate crowd-pleaser, swallowing fire.
“It’s not that hard after you learn it,” said Chris Bailey, 22, who admits he’s singed his moustache though not his long dreadlocks, and learned his act via Internet study. “You use your mouth like a candle snuffer, and as soon as the flames are robbed of oxygen, they go out.”
“Also remember to use your teeth, not your lips,” said co-performer Corey White, also 22. “You really don’t want to be touching hot metal with your mouth.”
Other activities included ice skating, a nature walk and an animal tracking hike, live music, a snowman-building contest, refreshments, and a craft and wellness fair in the warming hut.
Bob Lippman, director of the Saratoga Sport and Social Club, gave directions to the cluster of cross-country skiers lined up for the race, telling them to look for orange arrows painted on the paths, and if all else failed, follow the skier in front of them.
Lippman said the goal for the fundraising festival was $3,000, but it was likely double that amount was reached.
Raffle tickets were also being snapped up, with particular interest in a prize that many of the skiers might appreciate after their arduous race: a one-hour massage.
To date, Saratoga PLAN has protected nearly 3,000 acres of open space in the county. Funds from the festival will go toward PLAN’s work to establish the Round Lake Preserve, a new outdoor recreational area on a 92-acre parcel on the Round Lake/Anthony Kill waterfront. Purchase of the property was just announced by PLAN on Friday. The nature preserve will protect an active great blue heron rookery and other wildlife, and include walking and hiking trails for families.