Cold play

Polar Bear clubs brave the cold throughout the west
Scott Schumaker

It's New Year's Day, the temperature is 41°, and you're standing outside, shivering in swim trunks with a bunch of people known as the Boulder Polar Bear Club. A signal is given, and en masse you and your fellow bears start yelling and then leap into Colorado's Boulder Reservoir. Water temperature: 38º. James Boone

One of the more curious traditions brought to the West by immigrants of northern Europe, winter swimming events - commonly known as polar bear plunges - are growing in popularity. Some are loosely organized, while others include hot tubs, warming huts, music, and prizes. Nearly all encourage costumes and general zaniness. Not to mention a little faith in your cardiovascular system.

Top polar bear events in the West:

  • Boulder, Colorado (Jan 1; 303/ 494-3348)
  • Coeur d'Alene, Idaho (Jan 1; 877/782-9232)
  • Flathead Lake, Montana (Jan 1; 406/837-5018)
  • Las Vegas, New Mexico (Jan 1; 505/827-0733)
  • Lake Powell, Arizona (Jan 24; 928/645-6577)