LAKE GEORGE - Lake George Winter Carnival opens this weekend with ideal ice conditions, a full lineup of activities, and praise from local officials on the event's 50th anniversary.
This four-weekend festival of activities on the ice has been staged in Lake George for 50 years, featuring motor vehicle races on ice, children's activities, contests and sports games on the lake's frozen surface, and spectator events including the popular weekend polar plunges.
Event organizers said Monday they were enthusiastic about this year's prospects, as prevailing cold weather is building up a hefty sheet of ice so all activities proposed can be held.
"Ice conditions are perfect this year," Ed Kokolas said. "Unlike some past years, in 2011 we'll be having a full schedule of races and events."
Saturday begins with opening ceremonies at noon in Shepard Park complete with a patriotic skydiving salute.
These formalities are followed by the traditional Outhouse Races, a beloved feature of the Carnival since 1983. The competition begins at 12:30 p.m. and race registration starts at 10 a.m. at Duffy's Tavern.
These outhouse races feature teams, sponsored by local taverns, dragging outrageous homemade outhouses on a course down the ice atop Lake George. While spectators enjoy seeing bar employees and patrons scamper full-speed and locally over the ice, the fastest teams in various categories have traditionally enjoyed bragging rights for months in their hometown hangouts.
The Gold Anniversary Parade, which commemorates the 50th year since the Winter Carnival was launched, starts at 4 p.m. Saturday and proceeds from Prospect Mountain Diner northward on Canada St. The parade includes folks garbed in an array of crazy costumes, music, floats, performances along the route, and a trolley carrying over a dozen grand marshals - luminaries of the Carnival from decades past who for either cavorted on ice for spectators, or worked behind the scenes to make the tradition such a success.
Also to celebrate the carnival's longevity, fireworks over the ice will be offered at 6:30 p.m. each Saturday on all four weekends of the Winter Carnival.
This weekend's activities include a Chili Cook-Off at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, and a Children's Petting Zoo from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
Both Saturday and Sunday, activities include tethered hot air balloon rides starting at 8:30 a.m. - weather permitting - and a variety of children's activities and fun games for both youth and adults on the ice from noon to 2 p.m. A giant ice slide in Shepard Park is available during daylight hours over the weekend.
The Carnival also includes a new Skydiving Swoop Competition daily over the frozen lake.
Also returning for both Saturday and Sunday are tethered hot-air balloon rides, children's indoor crafts and games from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. - inside King Neptune's tavern.
New helicopter excursions join the ever-popular dog-sled rides and skydiving sessions over the ice - all available for a fee.
And what would Winter Carnival be without its trademark Polar Plunge? The event features dozens of brave swimmers dashing into the frigid lake - a favorite spectator event set for 3 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday. The Plunge is preceded at 2:30 p.m. by the Snowmobile Water Skip, in which a sled pilot careens over open waters for 100 yards or more, defying gravity that could sink his snowmobile into the icy waters.
In addition, a wood- and ice-carving demonstrations are to occur intermittently Saturday and Sunday.
This year's Carnival activities include a weekly bonfire on the beach from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, featuring marshmallow roasting and participants creating their own s'mores with the savory ingredients provided. This heartwarming family activity includes Ritchie Ortiz leading campfire songs, Kokolas said.
Family games on the ice, from noon to 2 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, include turkey bowling, hockey shoot, bean bag tosses, a Closest to the pin contest, and Frisbee throws, each for $1 which goes to support the Carnival, event official Kathi Kokolas said.
"We want whole families to be able to join in the fun for the weekend and not 'break the bank'," she said. "We want the Winter Carnival to be an affordable family outing, especially for those suffering from cabin fever."
To find out more details about the events, see: www.lakegeorgewintercarnival.com