Polar Fest smashes attendance record at West Point
March 2, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y. (March 2, 2011) -- The West Point community turned out in record numbers Feb. 26 during the 2011 Polar Fest at Victor Constant Ski Slope.
The seventh annual event was a major draw with more than 830 enjoying the slopes, the food and live entertainment. The first year attracted about 250 people, with attendance reaching 700 in 2010. Marybeth McMenemon said the event has always been a crowd-pleaser because of the range of activities.
"The West Point Ski Slope is just a great place to hang anyway, but what is great is that this event opens it up to people who don't ski and snowboard. There is something in it for everyone," the FMWR event coordinator said. "We call it FMWR's response to cabin fever...come out and play."
With the Big Air Competition, tubing on the Bunny Slope, NASTAR ski and snowboard races and live music by the Brian Tice Band, there was no shortage of entertainment anywhere. Forgoing the typical trophy or plaque, competition winners this year were awarded specially-made Polar Fest dog tags.
Sgt. 1st Class Andre Rush, the senior enlisted aide to the U.S. Military Academy superintendent, has delighted audiences with his ice-carving skills for the past four years at Polar Fest. Wielding an electric saw and chisel, Rush transformed giant blocks of ice into various works of art. A captive audience of children crowded the Army-trained culinarian who offered them pieces of ice and plastic chisels so they could join in the fun.
"There may be lots of snow all around to play with, but give them a piece of ice, and that's fun," Rush said. "I love kids, and I have a lot of fun every year entertaining them."
Courtney Chidgey, a special events coordinator, understands the fascination people have with the ice carvings.
"Because it's a live demonstration you can actually see the block of ice starting out and the way he chisels and carves and works the chain saw to create an amazing marlin or unicorn," Chidgey said.
Tony Pezzano proved most capable of devouring a tall stack of pancakes the fastest during the first-ever Lumberjack pancake-eating contest and won a snowboard. Last year's spicy pizza-eating contest was a huge spectacle for the crowds and a gastronomical challenge for a brave few.
"I love the eating competition," McMenemon said. "Last year was the first year we tried it and I think now it's become one of the bigger 'WOW' factors of our event. It's great all around because the winners get some pretty neat stuff and the spectators get a kick out of watching these 10 crazy people stuff themselves."
Thirteen-year old Tommy Beirne earned a pair of skis for his second-place finish and Chris O'Keefe earned the consolation prize of syrup and pancake mix for placing third.
"It's pretty stomach-upsetting coming in third," O'Keefe joked. "I've never competed in anything like this before. It was for the skis. Not for the children, but for those skis. Do you think he'll let me buy them from him'"
O'Keefe took his loss in stride and even shared his training plan for the event.
"I ate a couple of pulled pork sandwiches before hand, drank a couple of Powerades and took three breaths of fresh air. That's it," he said.
Polar Fest is not exclusive to the West Point community, and many come from out of town to participate in the fun. Members of the Coast Guard docked their icebreaker at South Dock to partake in some weekend skiing.
The eight-member crew from Bayonne, N.J., are often in the vicinity, breaking up sheets of ice along the Hudson River in their 140-foot vessel.
"We've docked up here three or four times this winter, and we always come up to the slopes to ski," said Seaman Gregory Casavant of the 96th Coast Guard Cutter Morro Bay.
They saw flyers for Polar Fest and planned ahead of time to attend as a morale booster for the crew.
Food Service Specialist 2 Matthew Hanson isn't much of a skier, but as the new cook on board this was one of his first opportunities off the boat he didn't want to miss.
"I came here and tried it, fell the whole way down, but I had a good time," Hanson.
Their executive officer didn't fare too well with the pancakes, but had their support.
"He didn't do too well, but he did his best and that's all we could ask," Casavant said.
While Polar Fest may be the most-attended event FMWR hosts every year, one that rivals it is soon approaching. The annual West Point 5K/10K race and Youth Fun Run is scheduled for May 14 at Buffalo Soldier Field.