by Madison V. Fisler
Jan. 24, 2014. Thousands of people are getting geared up for one of the most highly anticipated events of Blowing Rock WinterFest:The Polar Plunge!
But before participants can leap from the dock into a freezing cold Chetola Lake, a lot of work goes into making a hole in the thick ice of the lake so the plungers can jump safely.
For the past seven years, Mike Nathan has been part of the crew of groundskeepers that breaks up the ice for the event.
“We have been breaking up the ice for about four days now,” Nathan said. “We have to do it in stages, or it just freezes right back up again.”
The hole in the ice is made with a combination of many tools in the groundskeepers’ repertoire. Among the many items used is a 50-pound metal pick that is used to pierce the ice, a fitness weight tied to a rope that is thrown from the dock to reach ice out of reach, and new this year is a homemade bubbler.
“It keeps the water circulating so the ice doesn’t refreeze as fast,” Nathan said. “There are things like it under the water that keep the water moving all year for the fish, so this year we decided to make one of our own. It seems to be working pretty well so far.”
Breaking up the ice for the Plunge is a process every year, but this year is particularly challenging.
“Last year it wasn’t as cold so it wasn’t as difficult, but this year with the weather we are having it has been harder. The ice this time is almost three inches thick!”
Check out some photos of the creation of the ice hole, and be sure to turn out tomorrow at Chetola Lake to cheer on your favorite leaper, or if you’re brave, perhaps become a Polar Plunger yourself!
This year’s polar plunge will take place on Saturday, Jan. 25 at 10 a.m. at Chetola Lake. Though the number of participants varies from year to year, the number of spectators is always high.
The prize, the Golden Plunger, is awarded to the participant judged to have the best costume. The coveted award is highly sought after by repeat-plungers and comes with its fair share of bragging rights.
This year, the proceeds for the Polar Plunge go toward the Watauga Humane Society and the Western Youth Network.
Registration for the Polar Plunge will begin on site at 9 a.m. Come out in your favorite costume to try and take home the Golden Plunger and meet up with the new emcee John Carter. Or, for the less daring, come and support your favorite plunger as they leap into the frigid waters for a cause.