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ON THE SCENE: 2018 Empire State Winter Games, ‘best yet’

February 9, 2018
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

The Empire State Winter Games are much more than a gathering of young athletes to compete in such traditional winter sports as figure skating, hockey and skiing; they are an opportunity for athletes and audience of all ages and abilities to engage in a wide array of traditional and non-traditional winter activities.

Athletes could compete in nearly three dozen different events and added to that were a variety of activities for the athletes' friends and families, spectators and visitors to town. Skis, skates and fat tire bikes were all for rent, and for the more adventurous there were ice climbing equipment, snowshoes and more at area shops.

The Olympic Center with its ice rinks, speedskating oval and adjacent ESWG Village set up in the main parking lot across from the post office was a bustling hive of activities with others spread out as far away as Tupper Lake and Titus Mountain near Malone. Distinctive and loved were the black-and-white checked hoodies worn by the athletes. Raves for the Opening Ceremonies were given by many with most saying, "Best ever."

Article Photos

Skating coach Ellen Moon poses with Michelle and Brett Batson and their daughter Ellen with Paige Haggerty standing alongside.
(Photo provided — Naj Wikoff)

The ESWG Village featured a stage with performances by Nik and the Nice Guys, tents for rentals and a taste of the town tent where Paul Smith's College students dished out free samples of soups, stews, and chili from around 15 different area restaurants, and one could sample locally produced craft beer.

Fun was that the village had a zipline, speed tubing hill and a bike cross course. Added to that were fireworks and the opportunity to meet and send off the U.S. Aerials Team (next stop, the Winter Olympics in South Korea). As Fats Waller would say, "The joint is jumpin'."

The 38th running of the ESWG attracted more than 2,400 athletes from across New York state and beyond, how many exactly is hard to know as people could sign up for some activities last minute. Mountain bike racing was especially attractive.

The sport is gaining traction, especially in Europe. As an example, a four-day winter mountain fest is held annually in Gstaad, Switzerland, home of the first Union Cycliste Internationale race on snow.

In the U.S., opportunities are fewer, but Lake Placid has now been at it for three years and the potential looks good, especially if a race is held down Whiteface Mountain, incorporating parts of the course of Wilmington's spring fest. With only 15 four-stage races currently available worldwide, the Empire State Winter Games are well positioned to be a major destination for this expanding sport that's attracting professionals and amateurs alike. Grant Eckardt and his pal Matt Rugar enjoyed the course, saying there was nothing else in the region like it.

"It was awesome," said Grant.

"We'll be back," said Matt. "It was fun."

Indeed, national Super D Champion Seamus Powell attended and was matched up with young Ty Davis, less than half his age. For Davis, hitting the jumps and biking alongside his hero was a thrill, while Powell loved young Davis's enthusiasm.

"He's an inspiration," said Powell about Davis.

Inspiration a plenty was inside the Olympic Arena, where figure skaters were here, there and everywhere.

"We love the history of the place," said Pete Potasiewicz, in town with his wife Cheryl and their two daughters Renee and Katelyn, both competing the games. "When we were first given the opportunity to come to Lake Placid, we said 'Oh my gosh, the home of the 1980 Olympics!' Absolutely we are going.' We didn't care how our kids did in the competition; just them being there and having the opportunity to skate on Olympic ice was for us an event in itself."

Growing up, Potasiewicz's sport was hockey, but he's thrilled that his daughters love skating. To him and his wife, it was an opportunity to do things together as a family, and they felt that participating in sports was an excellent way to develop character.

"You can't win every time," said Potasiewicz. "Best is to go for the experience and enjoy it while you can."

Enjoy it they did with their youngest daughter Katelyn winning her event and Renee coming in fourth. Furthermore, their daughters made lots of friendships within their club, but also with their competitors.

"Lake Placid provides our daughters an opportunity to get dressed up, have their hair done, and showcase what they have learned," said Cheryl. "Every year, more and more members of our club come up because they hear what a great experience we all had. Our girls loved the opening ceremonies which made them feel so special. We've gone dogsledding, and our girls got the chance to skate on a lake, which they never have done before. There is a bunch of things to do up here!"

"A goal of the Empire State Winter Games is to create an event that underscores the best that the Northern Adirondacks offers in terms of sport, recreation, family hospitality and overall fun," said Tait Wardlaw, ESWG executive director. "I feel that this year's games were a big step in that direction. By creating an active Activities Village with more events, food and festival, we think we've given more people a reason to come and to bring their families and friends. We're already seeing a level of excitement for coming back next year that exceeds what we'd seen in the past."

Is that true? Indications are a big yes.

"We already have our rooms booked for next year," said Potasiewicz.



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