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Looking back to colder, simpler times

January 25, 2017
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

Winter's great white carpet has again unfurled across the Adirondack landscape, encapsulating everything in its path.

As snow continues to accumulate in my side yard, there is a silly grin that always seems to sneak across my face. I can feel it coming on, triggered by vivid recollections of my youth.

It is an involuntary muscle memory that is stirred at the first hint of falling snow. It simply can't be controlled, even though it remains buried deep in the faded memories of a smart-aleck kid who grew up in a neighborhood of snow forts, slingshots, tree houses, apple-flingers and an abundance of passing cars and trucks that were considered targets.

Admittedly, it was a different era, that occurred long before such terms as global warming or climate change had even been coined.

Back then, snowstorms were frequent, heavy and long lived. Snow would usually arrive in early autumn, and the mountain summits would often be capped with winter's white crown for the remainder of the season.

Winter was our most enduring season, reliably arriving in September and departing in June. In the months between, there were always spring floods, deeply rutted roads and a host of blackflies, no-see-ums, deer flies, horseflies and mosquitoes that fed happily on locals and tourists alike.

There were also a number of mitigating factors that served to compounded such matters. Other than high school sports and the outdoors, there really weren't a lot of entertainment options.

Television was delivered over the open air, and it was free if you could get reception, which was often spotty at best. There were only a few channels available and they were usually fuzzy, unless you had an antenna on the roof.

Kids really didn't require a lot of prodding to go outdoors back then because there really wasn't much to do indoors. The outdoors became our playground by default, and we learned how to use it throughout the seasons.

I recall a cold snap that occurred during the winter of 1974 when the Boquet River froze over completely. A group of us actually skated on the frozen river from New Russia all the way to Elizabethtown, about 7 miles distance.

Although the river was narrower and the channel deeper at the time, I doubt the feat could ever be repeated in current times, even if the weather cooperated.

Of course, I never thought I'd be wearing lightweight pants and a cotton shirt for the majority of the hunting season either. And who would have thought golfers would be teeing off on a snow-free golf course on New Year's Day.

Sadly, such anomalies have become the norm in recent times. I expect the majority of my fellow outdoor travelers have similar tales to tell.

Fortunately, I've had the opportunity to get out to enjoy the fresh snowcover in recent days. The fresh snow has certainly helped to spruce up the rapidly diminishing base.

While the cover will put an end to free skating opportunities on the lakes and ponds, I'm willing to accept the trade off. Free-skating is always available on Mirror Lake, where the North Elba Parks District crew maintains a wonderful loop around the lake for skaters to enjoy.

Currently, the park district crew is prepping the ice for the annual CanAm Pond Hockey tournament. At the same time, they have been working diligently to reopen the ever popular toboggan slide on Mirror Lake. The new toboggan slide appears to be much larger than the old one, which was originally constructed with materials from a ski jump that was located on the Lake Placid Club golf course.

However, the largest toboggan run in the village was located on Grand View hill, above the current parking lot on Main Street. The old run had a wooden bridge that spanned Main Street near the current post office building. A horse and wagon team was used to haul the toboggans back up the hill.

At the time, Mirror Lake also hosted ski-jouring excursions, with teams of horses harnessed to a long pole that could handle 20 or more skiers at a time.

Although the lake appears to be very busy in the current day, it pales in comparison to the hey-days at the turn of the century when the old Lake Placid Club was in full swing. Back in the day, there were cars, dogsleds, horse teams and even airplanes fitted with skis taking off from the lake.

Currently, lake ice is in good shape across the region, and snow cover continues to build in the backcountry. If temperatures continue to drop, I expect the ice palace workers union will soon begin construction of the grand ice palace that serves as the centerpiece of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival.

Take advantage of the current conditions, and get out now.



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