2012 marks the third year I’ve visited the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, only named the #2 Winter Carnival in the world by National Geographic. Beating out parties in Canada and Japan is pretty impressive considering the town’s population hovers around 5,000. Who knew we had a world-class event tucked away in the frigid Adirondacks? Answer: National Geographic, but now you know, too.
Each year has a theme, and this year’s was Alien Invaders. You can see a few of them above, abducting terrestrial life forms. As usual I accompanied my friends in the carnival group the Gimps, best known for never participating in the yearly theme. This time they were killer bees. As in the classic SNL skit, complete with sombreros, which raised concerns they would be interpreted as illegal aliens (they had been permanently banned from the carnival years ago for gratuitous use of “EAT ME” in an Alice on Wonderland theme). Bright yellow stripes and bee antics seemed to do the trick and there were no international incidents.
In 2010 and 2011 I went with something of a photojournalistic angle, focusing on the parade, the costumes, the ice castle and winter events. This time I decided to use the warm welcome my extended family of Gimps gives and come at carnival in a more documentary style. You may be asking, what’s the difference between photojournalism and documentation? Well, it’s quite simple: obviously I’m just using impressive words to sound like I know what I’m talking about.
Instead of staking out a spot on the parade route and shooting every float going by, I followed the swarm of killer bees to their staging area. Since they had the second to last float, this was perfect, passing by all the other groups on the mile or two walk out and making it back to the finish line about halfway through the end of the parade. Hanging out while the gimps were getting prepped was much more interesting than being roped onto the sidewalk and waiting for the parade to pass by. Maybe because they are pretty interesting. Bees on a frozen lake? Why not.
Walking back up the route, through the crowd, gave me a chance to shoot some of the other paraders and the spectators. I wanted to give a sense of what it’s like to be in the crowd, instead of the slightly antiseptic results I came back with in years prior. There’s a certain energy and enthusiasm we don’t get here in Albany at, say, Tulip or Lark Fest.
My impression of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival has been one of high alcohol consumption, which may just be a byproduct of the people I hang out with while I’m there. After the parade there was some hotel room drinking, some food and drinking at the Moose Club, some drinking and very noise-tolerant dogs at the Rusty Nail, and drunken bee bowling. I called it a night before the swarm invaded the Waterhole, a popular local establishment I had been forcefully ejected from last year.
By the time we were near the ice castle, with ice UFOs gorgeously lit up, I was looking forward to getting horizontal. So, no photos of the castle for me this year, but honestly, it will be hard to ever top Mark Kurtz’ shot from that Nat Geo link. If you’ve never been to the carnival, you owe it to yourself to check it out at least once, see the official website for details. Think about reserving a room sometime around right now. I highly recommend checking the slideshow for larger photos, more not shown here, and a better idea of what it’s like to hang out with the Gimps for a day.
Special thanks to all of the hospitable residents of Saranac Lake, especially the police and fire departments who maintain a semblance of order. Until next year, happy carnival!