Empire State Winter Games is a great event for the entire region

Theodore Kula a mogul ski racer from Bristol Mountain races at the 2022 Empire State Winter Games. (Photo by Lenny Christopher/Newhouse School)

Even though the Empire State Winter Games has grown from a Lake Placid event to an Adirondack event — with venues across the North Country — it still benefits Lake Placid in a big way and we are thankful to all the partners who continue to keep the games going.

The event is being held from Feb. 2 to 5 this year. Called “the largest multi-sport amateur athletic winter sporting event in North America,” the games are expected to attract about 2,000 athletes to compete in more than 30 events at venues in Lake Placid, Wilmington, Saranac Lake, Paul Smiths and Tupper Lake.

This year’s sports are adaptive biathlon, adaptive bobsled, adaptive cross-country skiing, adaptive sled hockey, Alpine skiing, biathlon, bobsled, cross-country skiing, figure skating, luge, skeleton, ski and snowboard cross, moguls, ski orienteering, hockey (10U boys, 12U and 14U girls, senior women), winter biking and speedskating (short-track and long-track).

When the first Empire State Winter Games came to Lake Placid in mid-March 1981, it was sponsored by the state of New York.

Fresh on the heels of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, the ESWG began the same year New York state founded the Olympic Regional Development Authority to operate the 1932 and 1980 Olympic venues. One way to keep those venues viable was to invite winter sports athletes from around the state to compete in Lake Placid.

Even the governor showed up for the opening ceremony on Friday, March 13, 1981.

“Tonight, we begin a tradition,” said Gov. Hugh Carey, not knowing that a fiscal crisis would cause the state to cancel the ESWG 30 years later.

In November 2010, we learned that the state canceled all the Empire State Games — summer and winter — not with an official announcement but through the games organizers who were told the news during a conference call.

So much for tradition.

Yet, maybe this was a blessing in disguise. Getting the state out of the Empire State Winter Games business could have been the best thing to happen to the games. After the state cut funding, a coalition of regional and local entities — along with state partners — took over the organization and operation of the ESWG, and they have grown them into a regional event that draws people from across the state to the North Country.

And Lake Placid is still in the center of it all. With the opening ceremony on Mirror Lake again this year — instead of the 1980 Rink in the Olympic Center’s Herb Brooks Arena like in years past — Lake Placid remains the headquarters for the games.

The Adirondack Sports Council — on the heels of organizing the Lake Placid 2023 FISU Winter World University Games — is currently the organizing committee for the Empire State Winter Games.

This is a community-driven event, which is much better than just having the state run it. It consists of a partnership between the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, based in Lake Placid; the towns of North Elba, Wilmington, Tupper Lake, Harrietstown and Brighton; the villages of Lake Placid, Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake; the counties of Essex and Franklin; and ORDA.

Since the locals took over the ESWG in February 2011, the event continues to add venues across the region and spread the athletes, families and spectators to communities throughout the Adirondacks.

Venues include the Olympic Center rinks, Olympic Speedskating Oval, Nordic ski trails and sliding center at Mount Van Hoevenberg, Whiteface Mountain, Paul Smith’s College VIC, Mount Pisgah, Saranac Lake Civic Center, Dewey Mountain Recreation Center and Tupper Lake Civic Center.

Lake Placid has plenty of experience hosting winter sports events locally. Now it has experience hosting winter sports events throughout an entire region. The Empire State Winter Games have proven that to a statewide audience for many years. Now, with venues across the North Country region playing a part in the 2023 FISU Winter World University Games, we’ve shown the world that New York’s Adirondack North Country region can successfully host large-scale, international sporting competitions.

That will serve us well in the future as the other Olympic-style events we seek to host will require a regional approach for venues. Long live the Empire State Winter Games.

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