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Saratoga, Clifton Park, other winter festivals help prevent cabin fever

Saratoga, Clifton Park, other winter festivals help prevent cabin fever

Outdoor carnival events, chocolate festivals, dance, chowder and more
Saratoga, Clifton Park, other winter festivals help prevent cabin fever
Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, left, Saratoga Chowderfest, above right, and Clifton Park Winterfest.
Photographer: Photo at left courtesy mark kurtz, saranac lake, ny

It’s easy to come down with cabin fever during this blustery season, especially after last weekend’s winter storm that left many stuck around the house. Luckily, over the next few weeks, there are plenty of worthwhile reasons to brave the cold and get out of the house, including winter games, hot chocolate bars, chowders, dancing, jamming and much more. Here’s a look at some of the upcoming festivals and carnivals that might help stave off any potential cases of cabin fever:  

Saranac Lake Winter Carnival 

Friday-Sunday, Feb. 1-10

With well over 100 years of history behind it, as well as hundreds of volunteers and cartoonist Garry Trudeau, the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival is one of the most popular carnivals in the area. 

“The carnival was one of the reasons why I moved here,” said Colleen O’Neill, a volunteer with the publicity committee for the carnival as well as the organizer for arctic golf. 

She attended the carnival well before moving to the area and was drawn to Saranac Lake because of the people who have kept the carnival alive and well for so long. O’Neill moved to the area in 2013 and began volunteering on the carnival committee just a few months later. 

“It’s something you can’t find anywhere else,” O’Neill said. 

Preparation for the ten-day event starts well before the first snowfall. But the first signs of preparation that outsiders might notice is the building of the Ice Palace. About two weeks before the carnival starts, volunteers head to the lake to help construct the Palace, which can be anywhere from 20 to 30 feet high, depending on the design. 

Dean Baker, the Ice Palace Chairman, has been volunteering with the carnival for 37 years and said that there are usually about 100 volunteers out on the ice on a daily basis, working to cut the ice blocks, which are a minimum of 12 inches thick, and shape them into a design that fits the theme.

This year, to fit the Prehistoric Park theme, they’re planning on carving some dinosaur shapes and other designs into the palace. During the carnival, the palace is open to everyone, including carnival royalty. 

Every year, the community nominates two people to be king and queen; usually, people who have been involved in the community for many years and who dedicate their time to others. 

There’s also a royal court, including a prince, princess, Chamberlin, attendants to the king and queen, etc. The coronation of the king and queen kicks off the carnival on February 1 and what follows is a flurry of activities. 

“We have a good mixture [of events],” O’Neill said. 

There’s arctic golf, FlowerBall, a cross between shuffleboard and curling, ultimate frisbee, snowshoe races, inner tube races, and many others. But for those who’d rather watch, there’s woodsmen’s demonstrations, a musical on ice, barbecues, a book sale, a variety show, and fireworks. 

This year, attendees also have the chance to try out a few different ice sports, like kicksleds, nordic skates and fat bikes. Human Power Planet Earth, a bicycle shop in Saranac, will provide the sleds and bicycles and from noon until 5 p.m. on Sunday, February 3, people can try them out at Lake Colby beach. Then, from 6 to 8 p.m., there will be paths open for night skating, another new event. Attendees should bring their own headlamps and/or flashlights. 

For those who have been collecting the carnival buttons and posters designed by “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau, there are plenty of chances to pick up this year’s prehistoric-themed design. Trudeau has created the carnival designs every year since 1981, though he didn’t start creating the collectible posters until 2012. 

The 2019 button, which features saber-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths, is available for $4 and are available at several venues around Saranac Lake. During the carnival, they can be purchased at the ROOST Office at 193 River Street. 

For the full schedule and for updates visit saranaclakewintercarnival.com. 

Dance Flurry 

Friday-Sunday, Feb. 15-17

Bring your boots and your dancing shoes. For the past 32 years, when the winds are whipping and the snowbanks piled high around Saratoga Springs, the Flurry Festival comes to town. 

With it, comes plenty of chances to dance, jam and sing. 

“Our numbers have stayed consistent [as far as] how many people come. A lot of festivals and traditional music festivals struggle after so many years, but we consistently have an attendance of 5,000 people,” said Tamara Flanders, the Flurry Festival administrative director, and longtime volunteer. 

Attendees are all kept busy with the myriad of dance sessions and workshops including non-stop contra, square dancing, Cajun and zydeco, Appalachian clogging, country line dancing, Native American and Cuban dancing. Over the last few years, organizers have increased the number of urban dance, hip-hop and breakdancing workshops. 

They’ve also included more youth programs and 21-and-under dances, like techno contra. While contra is usually a low-key dance style, it’s transformed with the strobe lights and upbeat music. There are a few sessions of this one session during the Flurry, including one that goes until 2 in the morning. 

Flanders said they’ve also been working on creating safe spaces for all, including using more gender-neutral language and increased messaging about consent. 

“We’ve been really big on building the culture of consent at our dances, which I think a lot of people no matter what [their] age, but especially youth have struggled in social dancing situations,” Flanders said. Organizers encourage attendees to ask for consent and permission from their partners by putting notices up in the bathrooms and reminding people during the workshops and dances. 

While there’s a lot of dancing throughout the weekend, there’s also plenty of chances to jam. The Flurry features music from a myriad of genres and workshops for guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, ukulele and many others. According to Flanders, it’s another chance to get people involved, especially kids who wouldn’t normally have the chance to jam. There’s also plenty of chances to sit back and enjoy the music for those who aren’t musicians. 

The festival takes place at a few different venues, one of which is new this year. Because of the closure of the music hall within City Hall, they’ll be using the ballroom of Excelsior Springs. That venue will feature mostly English country dancing and Scottish dancing, as well as waltzing, Tango, Victorian Set Dances, and the grand Scottish Country Dance Ball.

There will also be workshops and performances at the Saratoga Springs City Center, the Saratoga Hilton Hotel, the Parting Glass Pub and Putnam Den. 
For tickets and more information visit flurryfestival.org. 

Ballston Spa Chocolate Fest

6 to 9 p.m. Fri. Feb. 1

At this celebration, you really can have chocolate for every meal. Chefs from around the Capital Region will be creating samples of savory chocolates, sweet chocolates and chocolate beverages for the Ballston Spa Chocolate Fest. In its sixth year, the event has grown with over 20 participating businesses. 

“It’s kind of exploded,” said Ellen Mottola, the executive administrator of the Ballston Spa Business and Professional Organization. The first year, they had a few hundred people come and last year it was over 800. This year, with over 3,000 interested in the event listing on Facebook, they’re expecting more, said Mottola. 

“It’s the draw of chocolate, I guess,” Mottola said. 

While some restaurants and eateries are planning on serving chocolate creations right from their kitchens, other businesses are inviting chefs in to create their chocolate samples. Samples are $1 each. There will be a panel to judge the best samples and there will also be a chance for attendees to vote in the Fan Favorite category. 

There will also be chocolate-themed events at the Ballston Spa United Methodist Church, Brookside Museum and Doubleday House Antiques.

For the full list of participating businesses visit ballston.org

Saratoga Chowderfest 

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat. Feb. 2

With over 80 chowders to sample, it’s recommended that you forget about your new year’s resolutions during this festival. Unless those resolutions involve trying more chowder. 

In its 21st year, the Saratoga Chowderfest remains one of the most anticipated local events for epicures in the Capital Region. It typically brings around 40,000 people to downtown Saratoga and is organized by Discover Saratoga and presented by DeCrescente Distributing Company. 

Starting at 11 a.m., attendees can pick up a voting ballot at any of the participating restaurants in Saratoga Springs and spend the afternoon strolling around and sampling any of the 80 chowders available for $1 a piece before voting for their favorites. Ballots can be turned in at the Saratoga Springs Heritage Area Visitor Center or the Saratoga Springs City Center. Or attendees can vote online at discoversaratoga.com/chowderfest. Winners will be announced at 6:30 p.m. at the Visitor Center.

Some of the participating restaurants include Bread Basket Bakery, Caroline Street Pub, Farmer’s Hardware, Jacob & Anthony’s, Olde Bryan Inn, Phila Fusion, Sushi Thai Garden, Sweet Mimi’s Cafe, Wheatfields, Druthers, Forno Bistro, and many others. For the full list visit discoversaratoga.com.   

There will also be free shuttles from downtown Saratoga Springs to Wilton Mall Park and Ride near Dick’s Sporting Goods and the Saratoga Casino Hotel. 

Lake George Winter Carnival 

Saturdays and Sundays in Feb.

Every weekend in February, there’s something going on around Lake George. 

The Winter Carnival kicks off on Saturday, February 2 with snowmobile ice drag races on Million Dollar Beach at 10 a.m. Then, at noon, there will be an opening ceremony at MacDonald Pier in Shepard Park to welcome attendees to the 57th year of the Lake George Winter Carnival. 

From there, the weekends are filled with fireworks, hot chocolate bars, chili cook-offs, cornhole games, pony rides, face painting, Zumba, and of course, the outhouse races. 

The races have been going on since 1983. Teams of five people create and decorate their outhouses. Two members pull and two members push while one lucky team member sits on the throne of the outhouse. This year, the races start at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 2. 

Those aren’t there only races involved though. Later on, in the month there will be Sno-Cross races, car races on Ice, AFLAC duck races, 4x4 races, and ATV Poker Runs.

There will also be plenty of opportunities to chow down on festive winter foods with a hot chocolate bar, sundae fun days, a chili cook-off, a BBQ cook-off, s’mores at the beach and a chowder cook-off. 

Most of the events are weather dependent. Attendees are encouraged to visit the Lake George Winter Carnival on Facebook for updates and visit lakegeorgewintercarnival.com for more information.   

Clifton Park Winterfest

10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat. Feb. 9

The Clifton Park Winterfest has been going on for well over two decades. 

This year, there are chances to get out and enjoy the snow or to shake it off and warm up with a cup of soup. The festival starts around 10 a.m. with an introduction to ice fishing at Barney Road Pond, off of Valencia Lane. There will also be a youth fun classical race starting in Garnsey Park at 10 a.m. 

At the Clifton Park Center Mall, the Clifton Park Community Chorus will perform at 11 a.m. Then at 11:45 a.m. kids and teens will have the chance to compete in Clifton Park Idol, a singing competition based for ages 6-17. Contestants will have a chance to sing a song of their choice and they receive constructive criticism. 

At Riverview Orchards there will be horse-drawn sleigh rides, snow saucers and tubes, s’mores, a winter scavenger hunt, and other kids activities. 

For more information and for the full schedule, visit cliftonpark.org

Brant Lake Winter Carnival 

Noon to dusk on Sat. Feb. 16

As one of the newer carnivals in the roundup, the Brant Lake Winter Carnival has made a name for itself with outhouse races, vintage snowmobile and sleds and human foosball. 

It started in 2013 as a way to bring in some activity during the frigid winter months, sponsored and organized by the Tri-Lake Business Alliance, Town of Horicon and the Town of Chester. Since then, it’s brought in about 500 people for an afternoon of winter games and entertainment. 

This year, attendees can enjoy free horse-drawn carriage rides around the lake from Adirondack Carriages. There will also be curling, skating, and the traditional fry pan toss games. 

The outhouse races are done in memory of Davin Berg and anywhere from eight to twelve teams race each year for $1,000 in prize money. 

The Brant Lake Winter Carnival starts at noon and ends with fireworks around dusk at Jimbo’s Club. For more information visit trilakesalliance.com

Saratoga Beer Week

Thu. Feb 21 - Sat. Feb. 23

Though it’s called beer week, there’s also plenty of spirits to choose from. 

The Saratoga Beer Week starts off with a Drink Neat event on Thur. Feb. 21 at the Saratoga City Center, featuring whiskey samples from various distilleries. 

The following night, there will be a Cider Night with samples from over 30 cideries across the United States. 

It wraps up with the Saratoga Beer Summit at the Saratoga Springs City Center, with over 160 craft beers to try from more than 80 breweries in Saratoga and beyond.

There will also be live music and snacks available for purchase. For tickets and more information americaontap.com

Wine & Chocolate Festival 

1 to 8 p.m. Sat. Mar. 2

Although one hardly needs a reason to enjoy chocolate and wine, a festival is as good as any. 

Starting at 1 p.m. there will be an abundance of wine vendors, along with chocolatiers at the Desmond Hotel in Colonie. There will also be distilleries and cideries on hand for those who aren’t inclined to drink wine. Attendees can taste test samples of wine, from both local wineries and from those across New York state. 

There will also be a candy bar, featuring chocolates, cheeses and sweets. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 day of. For more information visit wineandchocolatefestivals.com

Outhouse Races at Tinney's Tavern

1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 27

Outhouse races are a classic way to kick off the winter season.  

At Tinney's Tavern (498 Lake Desolation Road, Middle Grove), teams of three to five people will be competing to earn one of the top three spots. One team member must be inside the outhouse, while others push and pull it towards the finish line. Teams can build their own "outhouse" structures using their choice of materials and their own design. Some look more like dumpsters, podiums, or snowmobiles than traditional outhouses. Last year, about 500 people came out to watch ten teams race across Lake Desolation. For more information visit tinneystavern.com.

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