Las Vegas Polar Bears brought in 2008 with a splash into icy waters at Storrie Lake, with more than 200 jumpers and spectators gathering as men were breaking through about eight inches of ice to accommodate the plunge.
Some call it invigorating, stimulating, refreshing, revitalizing and energizing, while others just call it crazy. Las Vegas Polar Bears just laugh and agree that jumping into frigid waters on New Year's Day is a bit crazy but once the deed is done, they feel totally alive.
Smiling and shivering first-time Polar Bear Rosie Lanphere teamed up with her sister, Dorothy, and sisters, Molly and Ana Brouwer, who had all made the jump before.
“It was shocking,” Lanphere said. “I just didn’t think about it before I jumped in, and it was ‘whoa.’ My friends had done it before, and we’re like sisters, so we all did it together.”
It was Dorothy’s second time experiencing the freezing waters. “It was cold and refreshing.”
There were many more young people participating than ever before; some tagged along with friends, while for others, it was a family affair.
Another first-timer, Margaret Duran, said she was freezing after her dip but said with a wide grin, “It was very fun. I didn’t feel anything when I jumped in, but now my feet are frozen, and I can’t even feel them.”
Longtime Polar Bear Philip Romero, a magistrate judge, said the large crowd was amazing.
“A lot of people showed up, I’m so glad and proud; it was neat to see young people, old people and families getting their immune systems kicked into gear and starting the New Year off right.”
Romero was among a handful of men arriving early to break the ice with bars. Park ranger Michael Sanchez and other park employees, with the help of a backhoe, assisted.
Taos native Ella Roman-Tito came to Storrie Lake with her friend Alea Campbell, who attends the Santa Fe Girls School. The two “almost” 13-year olds have met the challenge before: this was Roman-Tito’s third jump and Campbell’s fourth New Year’s Day leap.
“When you first jump in, you don’t really feel it,” Campbell said. “It’s so cold it shocks your system. Then when it hits you, you try to get out as fast as you can and then run really, really fast to get warm.”
Campbell said this is a good way to bring in the New Year.
“It’s so much fun, and you feel kind of clean in a way. You know this is the New Year, and all the bad things that happened last year just kind of go away.”
On New Year’s Day in 1994, a small but determined group consisting of six men and one woman chopped away at the ice and became the founding members of the Las Vegas Polar Bear Club.
Tito Chavez, one of the founders, remembers the first jump.
“The ice was so thick, we chopped a hole at the end of the pier just big enough for maybe two people to jump in. We wore party hats and built a small snowman on the pier.”
Chavez said some of the pictures show just the hats floating on top of the water and when he started to exit, there was just a ceiling of ice. He said luckily he saw a ray of light from the hole in the ice and was hoisted out of the frigid waters by his friends.
Chavez said that first year the hardy group jumped in twice. He said in previous years, he’s also made the plunge twice, but the second time is even more bracing and cold than the first jump.
The Coney Island Polar Bear Club is the oldest winter bathing organization in the United States. They swim in the Atlantic Ocean every Sunday from October through April.
The club continues its long tradition of celebrating the new year with a bracing dip in the cold Atlantic waters.