Empire State Winter Games begin with cowboy theme

Students run the Empire State Winter Games torch up Main Street, Lake Placid, prior to the opening ceremony on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. (Photo by Bond Photos)

LAKE PLACID — The 43rd Empire State Winter Games opened on frozen Mirror Lake Thursday evening, Feb. 2 and welcomed some 2,200 athletes competing in the three-day sports event, deemed the nation’s largest annual multi-event winter sport competition.

The opening ceremony featured appearances from 2018 Olympian Tommy Biesemeyer, an Alpine skier skier from nearby Keene; 2002 luge Olympian Ashley Walden of Lake Placid, executive director of the Adirondack Sports Council; and remarks from ESWG sponsor Community Bank CEO Mark Tryniski.

Biesemeyer was the subject of a highlight video showing his skiing career on the big screen before the crowd. A 2001 Empire State Winter Games athlete, he said he could relate to current athletes.

“I was in your shoes one day,” Biesemeyer said. “This is a steppingstone in your career. As you can see in the video, I was an Olympian and that was just a step in the direction for the dream of becoming an Olympian. And you guys can do it. You guys are here representing the best athletes in New York state and I’m super proud to be a part of this journey. I’m rooting for you guys and I wish you the best. Good luck, and this is just the beginning.”

Walden said athletes can draw inspiration from their surroundings.

Adirondack Mac, the mascot of the 2023 FISU Winter World University Games, leads the parade of athletes during the Empire State Winter Games opening ceremony at the Mirror Lake beach Thursday evening, Feb. 2. (News photo — Lauren Yates)

“These games are a unique event that offers athletes of all ages and all abilities a chance to compete in this historic winter sports town, home to two Olympic Games and most recently the 2023 FISU World University Games,” she said. “Regardless of your goals or future sport careers, the Empire State Winter Games creates long-lasting memories and friendships that are built on community. With so many opportunities today, it is ever-important to promote healthy lifestyles and socialization that can only be accomplished through sport.”

Ski jumper and Nordic combined athlete Max Fey, 12, of Lake Placid, the 2023 ESWG Athlete of the Year, opened the games by lighting the new flameless cauldron at Main Street’s Brewster Park from an LED torch, the first time a carbon-free presentation has been used in the ESWG to emphasize efforts for an environmentally friendly games. It was the same cauldron that was used for the 2023 FISU Winter World University Games held in January.

“We recognize that climate change is a real issue facing our future generations,” Walden said. “As a symbol of our responsibility to sustainability, we are utilizing a carbon-free torch and cauldron that will, in a small way, endure that others that follow you will have the same opportunity to participate in winter sports that we all love.”

In keeping with the ceremony’s Western theme, horse Harlow and rider Adisyn Sample from Mooers delivered the glowing torch to the ceremony, concluding its five-day, 700-mile journey from Buffalo and New York City that began Jan. 29.

The torch relay was welcomed by dozens of communities along the two routes that merged Thursday in Lake Placid, with title sponsor Community Bank, N.A., and presenting sponsors Zappone Chrysler Jeep Dodge Inc.; Jeep; Highmark Blue Shield of Northeastern New York; Stewart’s Shops; Casella Waste Systems and Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort.

Athletes walk in a parade to the Mirror Lake ice at the beach during the Empire State Winter Games opening ceremony Thursday evening, Feb. 2. (News photo — Lauren Yates)

Just 11 days after the conclusion of the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games that brought nearly 2,500 athletes and delegates from around the world, ESWG athletes will benefit from a legacy of new and upgraded venues at the ski jumps, Olympic Center, biathlon range and bobsled, luge and skeleton tracks at Mount Van Hoevenberg and James C. Sheffield Speed Skating Oval.

Athletes were handed cowboy hats for the ceremony, reminiscent of the Western-themed uniforms of past U.S. Olympic team opening ceremonies that began with the 1980 Olympic Winter Games held in Lake Placid. The ESWG festivities took place a few hundred yards from where 1980 Olympians were awarded their medals on frozen Mirror Lake.

The ceremony included a country music dance party, fire dancers and DJ Mr. Viva amping up the crowd. While temperatures were a seasonal 24 degrees (12 with the wind chill), the fire dancers provided some welcome warmth ahead of an expected Arctic blast on Friday and Saturday, driving temperatures well below zero.

At the Athletes Village at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort on Main Street, spectators and athletes have the chance to ride a mechanical bull and lasso a haybale calf.

Other features are firepits, cowboy cauldrons, make-your-own s’mores, a sausage roast, hot chocolate, an inflatable curling rink and snowball cornhole. Emcee Stuart Hemsley, of Lake Placid, who led the opening ceremony show, will conduct interviews on the big screen.

Athletes wait in line to pass through the gate of the Empire State Winter Games opening ceremony on the Mirror Lake ice Thursday evening, Feb. 2, 2023. (News photo — Lauren Yates)

All events are subject to weather — some will be moved indoors due to low temperatures. Athletes Village hours are 3 to 6 p.m. Friday and 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday.

The games, with planned competitions in Lake Placid, Wilmington, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake and Paul Smiths, include events ranging from adaptive sports (including sled hockey, Alpine skiing, bobsled and biathlon) to Alpine skiing, figure skating, sliding sports (bobsled, luge, skeleton), ski jumping, Nordic combined, winter biking, ski orienteering, hockey and figure skating. Adaptive skeleton and bobsled events were moved to Thursday to avoid frigid weather.

For more information, including sport schedule and results, visit empirestatewintergames.com.

Emcee Stuart Hemsley makes some remarks during the Empire State Winter Games opening ceremony at the Mirror Lake beach Thursday evening, Feb. 2. (News photo — Lauren Yates)

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