In Aroostook County, Another Maine Ice Disk (This One With an Outboard)

In northern Maine, ice carousels are big, cold, record-setting attractions.

Earlier this winter, a contingent of the Northern Maine Ice Busters got some practice in with a small carousel on Aroostook County’s Long Lake.
By Joel Crabtree
Photographed by Jason A. Frank
From our March 2022 issue

On the frozen expanse of Long Lake, in upper Aroostook County, some people enjoy ice fishing, and some enjoy snowmobiling. As for Roger Morneault and his crew of some 50 volunteers in the Northern Maine Ice Busters, they enjoy using chainsaws to cut preposterously large circles through the ice. In 2021, the group made one with a diameter of 1,233 feet, certified by Guinness World Records as the largest ice carousel ever created. With 17-inch-thick ice, it weighed about 50 million pounds.

Earlier this winter, a contingent of the Northern Maine Ice Busters got some practice in with a small carousel on Aroostook County’s Long Lake.

Not to be confused with rare, naturally occurring ice disks, like the one that has formed in the eddies of the Presumpscot River in Westbrook in recent winters, an ice carousel is man-made, cut into a frozen body of water and set spinning — to power their record holder, the Ice Busters used a 45-pound boat propeller and an old blower from a potato harvester run off an engine designed for heavy-duty pickup trucks. The disk must complete one full rotation for Guinness to count it, and even slight irregularities in the shape can cause a jam against the surrounding ice. Morneault, a plumber by trade, relied on precise GPS coordinates to plot thousands of points along the circumference.

Competition among makers of ice carousels is geographically sparse but nonetheless stiff. The Ice Busters surpassed a group in Finland that had cut a 1,000-foot-diameter disk to set the all-time mark just a month earlier. There are other diehards in Minnesota and Quebec who have, at times, held the record. Within Maine, Long Lake is an ideal venue because it generally holds its ice well into late winter and early spring, prime disk-cutting season. In early winter, the ice isn’t reliably thick enough, and in the bitter cold of midwinter, a carousel will refreeze to the surrounding ice too quickly.

Morneault’s fascination dates back maybe half a dozen years — he doesn’t exactly remember — when he came across a video online of someone making a little 50-foot ice carousel. “I was thinking, man, this is awesome,” he says. “We’re always looking for something to do. We don’t like staying inside. I said, ‘Listen, guys, bring your chainsaws and come to the sporting club.’”

“Roger called me up and says ‘Hey, you wanna make a giant circle on the lake?’” recalls Andrew Guerrette, a mechanic, EMT, and firefighter who thought it sounded like a decent-enough reason to hang out with buddies and drink beers. “We’re just a bunch of working-class citizens trying to beat cabin fever,” he says. That first carousel they made was 150 feet in diameter. Then, they set their first world record in 2018 with a 427-footer. Their Finnish rivals made a trophy that the teams now swap back and forth according to which presently holds the record.

The first revolution of a new disk has become a major to-do for people who live near Long Lake, in St. Agatha and Sinclair and other small communities. The Ice Busters use the occasion to raise money for local nonprofits, from snowmobile clubs to Meals on Wheels — last year, they brought in about $10,000. Earlier this winter, Morneault wasn’t sure whether the group would try to best their own mark or maybe wait to see if someone else breaks it first. Word had it that the Minnesotans had designs on the record. “What we did last year was huge — I’m not looking forward to beating that,” Morneault says, before adding, “We do have fun doing it.”

Update: As of early April 2023, the Northern Maine Ice Busters reclaimed the record for World’s Largest Ice Carousel on April 1, 2023, by carving out and spinning an ice carousel with a diameter of 1,776 feet.