Editor’s note: The New Year’s Day Polar Bear Stomp in Eagle Nest has been canceled due to winter weather.
Whether it is a chilly outdoor pool or a lake with a glistening sheen of ice that has to be hacked away to provide entry, opening the new year with chilly dip is some folks way of starting the new year afresh.
“It is a great experience, I recommend it to anybody,” said Manuel Villanueva, park ranger at Storrie Lake State Park in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where the annual polar plunge has been a tradition for a quarter of a century.
When Villanueva was much younger he was joking around with his boss about it.
“I never thought I would do it,” Villanueva said. “He’d been there 25 years and he said if I did it, he’d do it. So we both jumped in. It was like a cleansing. It was a good way to start the new year.”
The plunge begins at noon on Saturday, Jan. 1, but folks start getting quite a bit earlier, he said, with as many as 150 participants waiting patiently, if not somewhat freezingly, for their turn.
“We’ll cut out the ice, cut all the ice out and underneath and make sure it’s safe,” Villanueva said. “We have two ice rescue specialists, one in the water and one on the dock. When the conditions are perfect, we can do it from the dock and they just jump off. It’s a crazy site. We get more spectators than jumpers.”
Locals annually look forward to the event, and it even attracts people from neighboring states, he said.
Agnes Gibson of the Friends of Eagle Nest State Park helps organize the annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Stomp at 10 a.m., followed by the plunge an hour later.
“I’ve never plunged in. I just make it so that other people can,” she said. “We serve refreshments, that type of thing. I’ve never been one of the hardy souls to plunge in. But it’s interesting to see the expression on their faces when they come out more so than when they go in. Some of them, we have had people go in up to four times.”
Indeed, spectating is a big part of the fun, said Jordan Mitchell, Eagle Nest State Park ranger.
“I have never done it and I definitely prefer to watch,” he said. “Just watching the shock on their faces when they come out when they jump in. It’s massive shock, the wind getting sucked out of them, gasping for air because it’s so cold. But some people love it. We had one guy that jumped in, and then took a bucket of water out with him and essentially took a sponge bath shower.”
For some local options, the Riverpoint Sports & Wellness uses the Jan. 1 event as a fundraiser for the PB&J preschool services. The event will start at 11 a.m. with a $10 minimum donation.
“We close our pool down in the end of November, but we open it back up the week before and make sure it’s nice and cold,” said Shawn Gale, general manager.
He’s not hard to spot as he will be the one in the polar bear outfit.
“Every year (that) I’ve been the GM, I feel like it’s my obligation to wear the polar bear suit and jump in,” he said. “One year, it snowed the morning of. I think it was 38 degrees. The water was horrible. But when I actually got out, my joints felt amazing, which was a little bizarre.”
With the event cancelled last year due to COVID-19, Gale is hoping plungers return with a vengeance.
“I’m hoping everybody will be really fired up,” he said.
And for bears who feel like hibernating on Jan. 1, the city will be opening its outdoor slide pool at the West Mesa Aquatic Center 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 9, for the Al’burrr’querque Polar Bear Plunge.
“We hosted one in 2020, right before the pandemic hit and it was fun,” said Josh Herbert, city aquatics division manager. “It was unique. We did it on the outdoor slide pool. It was 35 degrees out and it was cold, but it was a lot of fun. You go down the slide and it built up some anticipation going down the slide. It was kind of cold going down the slide then you hit the water. You have the chance to brace yourselves as you’re going down.”
The time drew more than 40 people and Herbert is hoping to exceed that total this year.
The city also is using the event as a fundraiser, with the majority of the money going to the Shanta Strong swim fund to provide swim lessons for the underprivileged, and the remainder going to the Abq BioPark polar bears and penguins. The fee is $40 to take the plunge and $50 to go down the slide.
“After you’ve done it, you feel like a new person,” he said. “The adrenaline rush and overall feeling of plunging into that freezing water is pretty rejuvenating.”
If you go
Polar Bear Plunge
Noon Saturday, Jan. 1
Eagle Nest Lake
Polar Bear Plunge and Stomp
9 a.m.-noon Saturday, Jan. 1
Registration starts at 9 a.m. in the visitor center; Stomp starts at 10 a.m. for a 1 hour hike; Polar Bear Plunge starts at 11 a.m.; participants must wear shoes
Riverpoint Sports & Wellness
9190 Coors Blvd. NW
11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 1
$10 minimum donation
West Mesa Aquatic Center
Al’burrr’querque Polar Bear Plunge
6705 Fortuna Rd NW
10:30 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 9
$40 take the plunge; $50 go down the slide