by Madison V. Fisler
Jan. 14, 2013. 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?
What sounds like crazy is apparently a 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.
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.
“Most of the time it depends on the weather,” said Tracy Brown, Executive Director of the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority.
“When it’s really cold we only get the die-hards, but when it is milder we get lots more. We can expect anywhere from 50-100 participants. The spectators are a whole different story. We always have a couple thousand people come out to watch.”
Many participants in this annual affair take the plunge year after year, while many still jump just for a charity, or to say they have done it.
“A lot of folks just have this kind of event on their bucket list,” Brown said. “A lot of people have just always wanted to do it. They make it a point to just get out and try it at least once, and some of them like it so much they do it again. A lot of them do it in support of the charities, and a lot of them do it for the prize.”
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.
“We try to pick different charities that really benefit the community,” Brown said. “We choose partly based on volunteerism and support. We do our best to use this to benefit everyone in the community.”
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.
“We have a lot of people that do this every year,” said Billie Rogers, events director at the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce.
“We have one couple, the Hearn’s, that have done the Plunge for 14 out of the 16 years that we had it. The only two years they missed were years where there was too much snow on the roads for them to get here. People really love the Polar Plunge and WinterFest in general. In fact, most of the people that do the Plunge are from off the mountain.”
Registration for the event has already begun, but people can register the day of the event as well.
“We usually get between 50 and 60 people registering the day of,” Rogers said. “This year we are probably looking at about 75 plungers.”
For more information, or to register for the Polar Plunge, click here.
Check out our photos of the fun from previous Polar Plunges.