LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – It was a slow start to the winter. With temperatures staying above freezing for a lot of December and even a few days in January, some wondered when Lake George would freeze over. But if you ask Lou Tokos if he was worried about the water freezing in time, he laughs.
“Being involved for so many years, we get an overview of the Adirondack mountains. We have our ups and our downs, but by February, the end result – as you can see – is ice,” Tokos said on Tuesday.
Tokos was joined by Nancy Nichols outside the Shepard Park Beach bathroom building on Tuesday, where both were planning, setting up and getting ready for things to come. The signature concession trailer parked outside the building is as much a sign as the ice that Tokos knew would come to the lake. The Lake George Winter Carnival is back in town.
Tokos and Nichols have been involved with the carnival for over 30 years. This month will mark 60 years in total. It’s also the carnival’s comeback year, after the decision to not hold a carnival in 2021 – then still within the first year of COVID-19 in the state of New York. 60 years is a lot to celebrate, and the carnival’s comeback is sized to match, with the snowmobile and outhouse races that lead a pack of winter delights across February’s four weekends.
There’s something new on the schedule this year, too. The wheels and sleds hitting the frozen lake this month will be joined by dozens of paws, as dogsled rides return to the carnival, after 12 to 15 years of challenge.
“There was a reason behind it,” said Nichols on Tuesday. “The dogsled owners that we had before – who were phenomenal – they were concerned with the ice holes from ice fishing, so they stopped coming. But now we have them back!”
The concern was that holes in the ice created by anglers could trip dogs up in their tracks, creating hazards for the animals and riders alike. This year, a new dogsled promoter is bringing sleds to town, meaning the attraction feels like a truly new chapter.
The dogsleds will be bolting across the lake on the second and third weekends of February – the 12th-13th and 19th-20th, respectively. Every weekend of the carnival is different, from different culinary cookoffs hosted in the Shepard Park amphitheater to distinct sanctioned motorcycle and ATV races. What’s more, there’s no cost of admission. The concession stand and certain events cost money, but you can stride into Shepard Park and along the waterfront, and even out onto the ice, without having to spend a dime on any more than gas money.
Despite a slow start to the cold season, this has actually been one of the best recent winters for assuring those races are ready to go. Tokos estimates the ice on the lake at around 8-to-10 inches thick.
“Mother nature has totally cooperated this year. Ice, ice, ice,” Tokos said. “Many years, mother nature interrupts us during our season and causes some issues where we can’t move forward with certain races. That being said, so far it looks very promising for this year.”
And fingers are crossed extra tightly that conditions stay that way. It’s not just because of the anniversary, but also because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which canceled last year’s carnival. With the loss of the carnival, the pair of organizers – and the village at large – are now as hopeful as ever for the injection of extra business to local restaurants and hotels that’s crucial in the middle of winter.
Last year, a new event called Winterfest cropped up, offering wristbands that would get Lake George visitors discounts at restaurants and hotels, and access to certain winter activities. Winterfest is back this year, but is no replacement for the six-decade tradition of the carnival. Last year, Tokos, Nichols, and the other forces behind the event waited until the last possible minute to call things off.
“We struggled with the decision to cancel it,” Tokos said. “But because of the standards set forth at that time, both from the state and the county, we had no choice. They said there could be no gatherings bigger than 100 or 200 people at a time, and we get that just at the outhouses.”
The outhouses Tokos is talking about aren’t just for traditional use. Outhouse races are a favorite returning event – and one that Nichols took part in herself, in their very first year with the carnival. Tokos was more of a snowmobile kind of guy, riding at the carnival for enough years to be a known name by organizers at the time. When Nichols got involved in planning new carnivals, it didn’t take long until he followed.
“It was so funny, because (Tokos) was involved in snowmobile racing for years and years,” Nichols recounted. “A few years back, we needed someone with some expertise, and I said ‘What if we call Lou?'”
This weekend is the first of four for the carnival, and even it and Winterfest combined aren’t the only things going on in Lake George this winter. Ice Castles opened last month, an attraction gaining enough attention that cars driving down Canada Street were still slowing down for a passing view on Tuesday. The attraction has already sold 57,000 tickets, which syncs up with the high traffic Tokos and Nichols expect to see in the village this month just fine.
“It complements the area,” Tokos said. “In terms of (the carnival), we kind of have a regular following, but naturally we’re probably going to have more activity brought in by the Ice Castles.”
A schedule for the Lake George Winter Carnival can be found actively updated on the carnival Facebook page. Tokos and Nichols say the best way to find out what’s going on is by picking up the print schedule available at the carnival for everyone sipping hot drinks, walking across the ice, and joining in the fun this month.