The development of winter
recreation in the Adirondacks
In a region which remains in winter's grasp for almost half the year, the development of skills and temperament necessary to cope with such an environment is crucial to an individual's physical and mental well being.
When confronted with prolonged periods of cold, dark, daylight-shortened days, the necessity of recreational outlets becomes a vital component of survival. This need was first recognized in the late 1800's with the establishment of winter carnivals in many North Country communities. The carnivals offered relief from cabin fever and the winter blues, maladies which are known today as seasonal affective disorders. By the late 1880's, the village of Saranac Lake was well established as a cure center hosting 'consumptives' or 'tubers', as tuberculosis patients were then known. Recreational activities were considered an important component of the cure process and events were devised to encourage the tubers involvement.
Saranac Lake, which continues to host one of the longest running winter carnivals in the nation, first hosted it's annual winter carnival in 1898. The event was intended to provide citizens and visitors alike with a respite from the ordinary, everyday existence while offering opportunities for both recreation and socialization.
Winter recreation quickly gained a foothold in the community. Historic photographs reveal activities that included sliding, skating, barrel jumping, curling and ski jumping. For many years, Saranac Lake's Petrova Field was the location of the world's largest outdoor skating rink.
Skijoring, which entails a skier towed by a horse or team of dogs, was a very popular event. Often, huge crowds gathered to witness these winter sporting competitions; including a motorcycle skijoring race that ran for nearly two miles through the village streets. One such race attracted a crowd of over 2000 spectators as competitors were timed by telephoning from the start to the finish. According to reports of the day, "one motorcyclist topped 55 mph going downhill on Broadway before the hapless skier he was towing, a certain Mr. Henry Ives Baldwin, crashed into an oncoming car and was trapped underneath."