Canceling LP tradition regrettable but correct decision

Photo — Christie Sausa Adult figure skaters Natalie Bare, Margaret Hurley, Rosemary Kelley, and Janet Huppi skate into 2016. They are all long time participants in the Lake Placid summer adult figure skating camp and wanted to skate into a new year together.

Last New Year’s Eve, many of us were skating into 2020 on the Lake Placid Olympic Speed Skating Oval. For some, it had become an annual family tradtiton for the 13 years I have been organizing the event. It was something families could look forward to every year while helping out a great cause.

But this has been a year where so much cannot be planned, or anticipated, or fully resolved.

This year, I have made the difficult decision to cancel Skate into New Year for the first time.

This was a decision I made independently after considering all factors and potential risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the process of discussing potential strategies for hosting the event, the Olympic Regional Development Authority had been helpful and supportive, but under the circumstances, I felt it was best to postpone for the safety of our guests, staff, and for all of Lake Placid. I sincerely hope that those who have made this event a part of their holidays understand as well.

I first organized Skate into New Year in 2007. I was a young 17-year-old figure and speed skater whose only qualification to run an event was an idea and good intentions. Working at the oval in nearly every position — as a skate guard, a skate rental clerk, a box office ticket seller — I overheard a parent asking what family-friendly activities were available in Lake Placid on New Year’s Eve. “You mean I should just go sit in my hotel room, or a bar, with my kids to celebrate the New Year?” he asked incredulously when the response was negative.

I’m not sure where that man spent New Year’s Eve, but that’s where the idea for Skate into New Year was born.

Thirteen years in a row and counting, Skate into New Year can be considered a normal part of the skating landscape, and it’s helpful to understand the intentions behind the event.

The concept was simple — a skating party on the Olympic Oval after the regularly scheduled 7 to 9 pm session, designed for kids, teens, and families, with no alcohol or other substances allowed; an easy proposition, since as part of school property, that shouldn’t be consumed at the Oval anyway. Students, even college students, could skate for free, in an attempt to limit potential underage drinking in teens and young adults. Adult tickets would cost $5.

I felt that it was important to host the event without spending any of the money we raised for charity, so 100% of the funds raised would go to the intended destination. The original recipients of the funds were local skating clubs. A few years later, understanding that the Lake Placid Ecumenical Food Pantry was struggling to restock its shelves after the holidays, we chose to support that important cause. More than simply providing “something to do,” the intention behind Skate into New Year was always to give back.

From the beginning, I had the vision that it would be an event for the community, supported by the community. That’s how it started, and that’s how it stayed. ORDA gave the most by allowing us to use their venue. Local artists Nip Rogers and Arti Torrance, donated their time to create a poster image for the event (the poster design most associated with the event was created by Torrance), and Compass Printing donated its printing services to provide posters and handbills. All snacks and goodies for the party were donated; even Starbucks donated hot chocolate the first few years (in later years, Centerplate, Stewarts, and others stepped up to provide). Almost every year, Richard Lysek of Lysek’s Hillcrest Inn baked his famous brownies for the guests. Price Chopper and Hannafords donated excess Christmas cookies, cakes, and other goodies, offering a veritable feast presided over by Joan Goldthwait of Saranac Lake, a master’s speed skater who had volunteered since the very first one even when it was difficult for her to do so.

Michael Bartow, a figure skater who trained in Lake Placid and now lives and coaches the sports in Potsdam, drove every year to Lake Placid and back to help however he could — from helping me pick up samovars of hot chocolate to helping skate guard, he was ready and willing to help. And like Goldthwait, Bartow was present at every Skate into New Year.

Some ORDA employees volunteered their time, and some years, amateur musicians serenaded those in the warming hut with songs and acoustic guitar. Even the napkins and tablecloths were donated.

I was originally told that to host a successful event I would need to fill out grant applications to pursue funding. I thought there was a better, simpler way, which was just asking community businesses to donate what they could, and they did. To date, we have raised more than $10,000 for the Lake Placid Ecumenical Food Pantry, and that has translated to refilled shelves and supporting families in Lake Placid. I remember there was a period when I was visiting the food pantry, and I was happy to give back to those who helped support me and my family.

This year, we wanted to make sure our good intentions didn’t inadvertently lead to potential danger. COVID-19 has changed the way we live, work, and play. Last year in January, if you had told me that by this time this year we would be in the throes of a global pandemic, that we would have to wear facemasks to “stop the spread”, that social distancing and “six feet apart” would become necessary, I wouldn’t have believed you. No one could have seen this coming, except for some epidemiologists, and we all had to adapt.

Sometimes good things come out of lack. Sometimes possibility comes out of difficulty. And sometimes, we must take extreme measures to protect others. Even with distancing and all COVID procedures firmly in place, we didn’t want to be a potential part of a problem, but rather, part of a solution. So we made the choice to be responsible and postpone Skate into New Year this year. I am appreciative that the Oval and other Lake Placid venues have stayed open to continue to serve athletes and visitors, and I want to do my part to ensure that continues.

This is not a decision that was made lightly, and we are grateful for the support from and partnership with ORDA all these years. In fact, we are working together to organize a similar event later in the season to benefit the food pantry and by extension, the Lake Placid community. It won’t be Skate into New Year, but it will serve the same purpose of assisting the food pantry. More details on that will be coming soon.

This has been a horrible year for so many. We’ve lived through political upheaval, a global pandemic, natural disasters, and economic chaos. Our world has been shaken and continues to shudder. With the help of the COVID-19 vaccine, f we can commit to proper measures and respecting others, we should start to see positive changes. I hope that with this in mind, we can plan on Skate into New Year at the newly renovated Oval next year, and skate into 2022 with true joy, gratitude, and freedom — and hopefully, not quite so far apart. See you then.