By Madison Fisler Lewis
Jan. 8, 2015. When it is freezing cold and snowy outside, most folks just want to curl up with a hot drink, a blanket and a fireplace. But on one day a year, residents and visitors to Blowing Rock choose to forego those cozy luxuries and do completely the opposite. On Saturday, Jan. 24, fearless contenders will hop into the freezing waters of Chetola Lake. The annual WinterFest Polar Plunge makes people feel good about helping out a good cause, even if they can’t feel their toes!
What sounds like crazy is apparently a whole lot of fun for tons of residents and visitors to the High Country every single year. Blowing Rock’s WinterFest celebration provides the backdrop to the annual Polar Plunge, where costumed citizens leap from the dock into a freezing cold Chetola Lake — for a good cause of course.
One of the most highly anticipated events of the annual WinterFest festival, the Polar Plunge is a sight to see for those who aren’t brave enough to brave the icy cold depths. Participants jump in costumes or themed clothing and spend weeks perfecting their best one-liner before the event begins at 10 a.m. And it isn’t just a show of fortitude either. These jumpers are hoping for a shot at winning the big time. The prize, the Golden Plunger, is highly sought after by repeat-plungers and comes with its fair share of bragging rights.
“This is the perfect thing to celebrate winter during WinterFest,” said Billie Rodgers, Event Coordinator at the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce.
“When WinterFest first got started, we saw the beautiful lake in front of Chetola while we were brainstorming what we should bring to the festival. Someone said that we should have people jump into the lake like they do at Appalachian and we went for it. And now we just can’t get rid of it because it is so much fun!”
All of the craziness is a whole lot of fun, but this year, 50 percent of the proceeds from the event will benefit local charities Western Youth Network and the Hospitality House.
“These are really great, deserving charities,” Rogers said. “Along with the proceeds, we take donations at the Polar Plunge that go directly to the charities. This is a great way to have a great time in the winter while helping out great causes.”
Registration for the Polar Plunge event will begin at 9 a.m. at the Highlands Recreation and Sports Center at Chetola Resort. Participants will start taking the plunge at 10 a.m. Registration forms and waivers may be found here.
If you don’t feel like jumping, there is plenty of room for cheerleaders and spectators. Hundreds of spectators attend every year to support their favorite jumper – or to laugh at the cold contestants.
And if you don’t want to be out in the cold, join Chetola Resort for a Polar Plunge Brunch Buffet at Timberlake’s Restaurant during the plunge! The menu will include eggs Benedict, biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits, hickory smoked bacon, sausage, smoked salmon and accompaniments, quiche, sliced pork loin with maple-bourbon glaze, tomato bisque, salads and more. A regular breakfast will be served from 7:30-10 a.m. Cost for the meal is $15 for adults and $11 for children 12 and younger. But don’t worry, you wont miss the fun! The buffet will feature a live feed of the Polar Plunge, along with drink specials and more. Reservations are required for this event, and may be made by calling 828-295-5505.
Who would have thought that jumping into a hole in an icy lake while wearing wild, wacky costumes would become one of the most time-honored annual traditions in the High Country?
“Our motto for WinterFest is ‘Don’t Hibernate…Celebrate!'” said Rogers. “The winter is gorgeous from a window, but it is even more beautiful when it is snowing on your head.”
For more information about the 2015 WinterFest Polar Plunge, click here.
Check out photos from previous Polar Plunge events.
Photos by Lonnie Webster