A cool breeze subsided long enough for 77 hardy souls to brave the -4 C air temperature and welcome 2017 with a plunge into the Columbia River.
The 31st annual Polar Bear Swim at Gyro Park brought probably three times as many spectators as swimmers but there was no shortage of enthusiasm in the eager crowd.
Members of the 44 Engineer Squadron and 39 Combat Engineer Regiment built a fire, cleared paths and signed everyone up for the splashy welcome to another year.
The crowd was mixed with harden swimmers from years gone by to those in costumes to those who have finally decided to take the first plunge in the New Year’s Day tradition.
Andrea McInnes, 63, has watched the event many times but this was her first time participating.
“This is for my grandson (Justin McLaren),” she said while waiting the green light to jump in.
“It’s been on my bucket list for years.”
She was acclimatizing herself to the cool 4 C temperature prior to the swim.
“That’s so when I go in I won’t be so shocked.”
Immediately after the swim, she was beaming rather than shivering.
“It was invigorating … cold … then ‘Wow’ … I’m alive.”
Even though it’s now off her bucket list, she vowed to be back next year.
For 20-year-old Jonjin Whang of Korea, the thought of jumping in the Columbia River never crossed her mind last week.
She only landed in Canada on Dec. 30, preparing to attend Selkirk College in Castlegar. However, the people she is living with, John and Lisa Sloot, showed her a video of previous Polar Bear swims and she wanted to try it.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” she said in limited English prior to jumping in the river.
Right after she had a similar reaction to the icy waters that many Canadians felt after taking part in events around the country.
“My hands … my feet … are frozen.”
Rossland’s Charlotte Gibson is a veteran of four previous swims and her mindset was not to give it a second thought.
And she keeps coming back for more every year.
“Because it’s fun and you get to go for a swim at the pool after.”
Registrants were given passes to the Trail Aquatic Centre and a multitude of prizes were handed out to the crowd gathered around the roaring fire on the beach.
Shiloh Brown, 12, completed his second Polar Bear Swim and headed for the fire to keep warm.
“Just my toes got cold,” he said, adding he was also eager to head to the pool afterwards.
While the tally of swimmers stood at 77, there had to be almost 150 people cheering them on from dry spots around the park.
“It’s great to see all the people out,” said Shane Batch, warrant officer and squadron Sergeant Major with the 44 Engineer Squadron and 39 Combat Engineer Regiment and the main organizer of this year’s event.
“We really enjoy doing this and as long as they let us keep doing it, we’ll carry on doing it.”