Alaskan Traditions of Polar Bear Dipping in December
Becoming a Member of the Polar Bear Club
- The event begins with a sign-up sheet and a $10 lifetime membership fee which, once your dive is completed, rewards you with a badge and certificate listing the time, date, and water temperature. The number of swimmers can vary from just a few to more than 40 participants ready to brave the water. Some prefer to swim fully clothed, others in suits. Some locations offer prizes for the best costume. A five-minute warning bell lets you know it's time to line up along the shoreline. The next sound is the fog horn that tells you it's time for the plunge, followed by shrieks and splashing as swimmers rush into the water. Swimmers must submerge completely to earn the certificate.
- The event is often held in conjunction with a parade of the costumed swimmers as they head to the water, winter carnivals, frozen turkey bowling, craft fairs, and fundraising for designated charities. Often the proceeds are donated to groups such as Children with Cancer and include a "Hair Cut Off" for attendees with long hair who wish to donate their locks for those undergoing chemotherapy.
How Cold is Cold?
- The winter months in Alaska are spent in relative darkness 24 hours a day, while the summer is the opposite, earning the nomenclature "the land of the midnight sun." Twenty-four hours of darkness will result in colder water, and if ice is present, expect it to be colder still. Summer months might see air temperatures in the mid-40s, but winter temperatures can drop below zero. Add a wind chill factor, and you can understand why the event lasts only a minute or two.
- Similar events are held worldwide for everything from religious celebrations to health treatments to sports. Variations on the event might involve rotating ice swimming with time in a sauna to swimming fully dressed in costumes. China and Russia regularly indulge in ice swimming, as does Finland, whose participants believe the tradition of swimming in the Baltic Sea helps to strengthen the body and mind, overcoming depression during the long winter months.