Polar Bear Club

Polar Bear Club

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Megan Ault

Wintertime catharsis.

Scroll through your mind on a frigid January afternoon for something fun to do and chances are it won’t involve stripping down to a bathing suit and completely submerging yourself in the neighborhood pond—a body of water sealed with thick ice, save a tiny inlet. But somehow a total-body ice cream headache does appeal to about fifty Bozemaniacs who call themselves the South Central Montana Polar Bear Club, lest anyone confuse them with another group.

The group started as a group of friends, friends of friends, and their children who got together once a month for the dunk. Despite the fact that some people arrive in Russian hats and other crazy costumes and generally create quite a laughing ruckus, the group does have rules by which Polar Bears must abide, group founder Sue Higgins explains. “No wetsuits, participants must go all the way under, and bathing suits are required—this is a family event where all ages are welcome.”

As you can imagine, dunks aren’t too difficult many months of the year, but as their January 2001 newsletter, The Barely News, warned, “With snow on the ground, the January dip of the South Central Montana Polar Bear Club may well separate the wheat from the chaff.” Most all rose to the challenge and plan to again this year, save for a few members grandfathered in as official observers. “They bring food,” Higgins grudgingly admits.

When asked why she started such a club, Higgins tells of growing up in upstate New York with fond memories of the dunking tradition and the camaraderie felt among fellow dunkers. It's a tradition now being passed down to over twenty families and going strong. “My biggest surprise was that people actually showed up after the first announcement went out. They came in droves, all in terry bathrobes, Speedos, and big lined winter boots. Pretty hilarious. To be honest, I wasn’t prepared for such a warm and eager gravitation toward this concept, proving that people must be looking for something to change the theme of their busy lives...that’s what I was looking for. The whole thing for me has been cathartic, not to mention bone chilling and extremely fun.”

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