The 2024 Nelson Polar Bear Swim is coming up!

The 2024 Nelson Polar Bear Swim is coming up!

The 2024 Nelson Polar Bear Swim is on January 1! There are a ton of prizes to be won, including a staycation at The Sentinel in Kaslo, a $200 gift card to Relish in Nelson, and a two-day pass to Whitewater Ski Resort.

Last year’s swim was a huge success, raising close to $8,000 for Friends of Kootenay Lake and Kootenay Co-op Radio, surpassing the goal of $5,000. This year’s goals are to have 400 participants on the beach, 200 plungers, and $8,000. With your support, we know we can do it! To register and fundraise, you can visit

Thinking about the swim had us wondering about the history of cold water dips, so we looked it up in case you’re interested, too! Read on to find out more.

The roots of the polar bear dip can be traced back to ancient civilizations that viewed cold water immersions as a source of spiritual purification and renewal. In ancient Rome, the practice of plunging into cold water was associated with the annual festival of Saturnalia, a celebration of the god Saturn. Similarly, the ancient Greeks believed that cold water had healing properties and used it as a form of hydrotherapy.

In what is now known as North America, Indigenous communities also had their own versions of cold water immersions. Some tribes incorporated icy plunges into their ceremonies and rituals as a way to demonstrate strength, resilience, and a connection to the natural world. These traditions often involved winter swims in icy lakes or rivers, reinforcing a sense of community and shared experience in the face of nature’s challenges.

The modern incarnation of the polar bear dip can be linked to the long-standing tradition of winter swimming in Europe. Countries like Finland and Russia have a rich history of cold-water swimming, with enthusiasts donning swimsuits and taking icy plunges even in the coldest months. These activities were often associated with health benefits, as some believed that cold-water exposure could boost the immune system and improve circulation. The polar bear dip as we know it today gained popularity here in Canada, where brave individuals embraced the challenge of jumping into freezing waters to welcome the New Year. The first official polar bear dip in Canada dates back to 1920 in Vancouver, where a small group of swimmers braved the chilly waters of English Bay on January 1. The event gradually gained traction and spread to other parts of the country, becoming an annual tradition for many Canadians, including here in Nelson! Many participants view the icy plunge as a symbolic way to start the year fresh, leaving behind the challenges of the past and embracing new opportunities with courage and resilience. The collective experience of facing the cold together fosters a sense of camaraderie and community spirit.