Buffalo News: Revelers enjoy seasonal thrills, chills

Winterfest turns downtown Buffalo into a frozen playground for fans of cold-weather activities


By Gene Warner

News Staff Reporter

Published:February 12, 2011

Downtown Buffalo turned into one huge workout facility Saturday -- whether your passion was playing pond hockey on 14 inches of ice, racing up 38 flights of stairs, competing in broomball or tossing a frozen turkey down a bowling alley.

Winterfest returned to downtown streets and the Erie Basin Marina amid ideal weather, at least for penguins, pond-hockey players and turkey bowlers.

Following a brief wind-blown snowstorm in the morning, 700 players in the Labatt Blue Buffalo Pond Hockey Tournament enjoyed almost perfect conditions later in the day, with just a few snowflakes dancing in the air and temperatures in the high 20s.

The ice was smooth and quick, and the clouds even gave way to sunny blue skies for part of the afternoon.

"This is exactly why we live in Buffalo," said Jim Kavanaugh, 47, of Orchard Park, playing for the Consumer's Beverages team. "Just because it's snowing doesn't mean you can't play in it. It's the thrill of the four seasons."

The pond hockey tournament was one of four main attractions that brought thousands of people downtown.

The outdoor Powder Keg Festival -- with its sleigh rides, broomball games and turkey bowling -- also embraced the city's oft-maligned winter weather, while two other events were held indoors: the Fight For Air Climb up 38 floors at One HSBC Center and the Buffalo Auto Show in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.

The winter festival continues today, including pond hockey and the outdoor events and attractions near Pearl and Seneca streets.

Saturday also will go down as the first day that Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown tried his hand at turkey bowling, tossing a 10- to 12-pound frozen turkey, wrapped in a bag, down a 35-foot alley covered by plastic.

For the record, Brown rolled a spare.

Like a good politician, he credited two women who gave him a quick tip before he rolled his first turkey.

"They told me to aim and throw it as hard as I could," said the mayor, dressed down in a pair of blue jeans, a turtleneck, sweater and winter jacket. "It worked."

Adding turkey bowling to the Powder Keg Festival was the brainchild of Alex Tryjankowski, 14, a Clarence High School freshman, who was thrilled at the event's popularity.

"It's kind of cool to see it all come together," said Alex, one of the event's pin setters.

A few blocks west, at the Erie Basin Marina, organizers of the pond hockey tourney felt much the same way. No matter how well-organized they were, and how hard city employees worked to polish the 10 ice surfaces, the organizers still were at the mercy of the weather.

Brett Carlsen, associate brand manager for Labatt Blue, was excited about this year's weather, especially compared with the slushy conditions that forced the cancellation of Sunday's games last year.

"So far, so great," Carlsen said shortly before noon, as he turned to the larger picture.

"This epitomizes what Buffalo is, playing hockey on a frozen marina in mid-February," he added. "The tournament sold out in 10 minutes, and that just speaks to the love of the game here."

So why would 700 pond hockey players, on 124 teams, brave the cold, wind and snow to show off their hockey skills -- and weaknesses?

Players seemed torn as to whether they were embracing Buffalo's weather, their passion for hockey or their childhoods.

"I love the cold. I love the snow," said Brian Degnan, 32, an attorney from Buffalo, playing for Geckos Bar on Hertel Avenue. "If you want to sit inside all winter, you're going to be miserable."

Jim Glose, 56, and Kevin Quinlivan, 50, both of Buffalo, were playing on a team called "78 Long(itude) 42 Lat(itude)." It was clear that the tournament was bringing out the child in both of them.

"This is what you did when you were young," Glose said. "I played at Lincoln Arena [in the Town of Tonawanda] before it was covered. The puck would go in the corner, and you'd have to find it in the snow. I think it's like going back in time."

Quinlivan wasn't looking for any Zamboni to create perfectly smooth ice conditions.

"I'm here mostly because the conditions are so unpredictable," he said. "That's what makes it fun. There's no control over the variables. It's like being a kid again."

Kavanaugh, from Consumer's Beverages, had worked up quite a sweat as he sat in the players' heated tent, tending to a pulled hamstring, after his team lost by something like 17-16.

He marveled at the perfect temperature, 27 or 28 degrees, cold enough to keep the ice pretty smooth without being too frigid.

"The weather gods shined down on us," he said.

The hockey players were dressed for the cold, but there was a group of indoor competitors wearing heavier equipment than they were, the dozens of firefighters who participated in the Fight for Air Climb, a fundraiser for the American Lung Association.

"We have 216 climbers, including 86 firefighters," said Kathleen O'Neill, communications manager for the American Lung Association in New York. "This is as many people as we had in New York City."

Leading the group's preclimb warmup was Krystal Sondel, 27, of Tonawanda, who works in public relations at St. Mary's School for the Deaf. Six years ago she was diagnosed with asthma, and her goal was to reach the top step, no matter the time.

"It only took me 8 minutes and 47 seconds," she said later, after being recognized for raising more than $1,300. "I was out of breath, but it was great to see everybody up there cheering us on."

One Buffalo firefighter, Anna Krause, of Engine 21, made the climb in memory of her grandfather, Albert Ventresca, who died from emphysema.

Krause, who climbed the 38 flights wearing 65 pounds of firefighter gear, took some good-natured ribbing later from fellow firefighters for looking so fresh at the top of the building.

"It's good to see this many people out in downtown Buffalo on a Saturday," she said on the 38th floor. "I'm a city resident, and that makes me happy."

Krause did double duty Saturday, also competing in the good-natured battle between the Buffalo police and firefighters, played out in the big parking lot just south of Coca-Cola Field. Powder Keg sports and games coordinator Chris Catanzaro described it as "the red versus the blue, the bravest versus the finest."

Firefighters and police officers competed in broomball, a snowshoe race, a rescue sled pull and something called the snow-shovel throw.

"No matter what the weather is, people are coming down here because they love Buffalo, and they love the outdoors," Catanzaro said. "We're trying to get people out of their [winter] hibernation."

Mission accomplished.