Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Support NHPR's local journalism that brings clarity, context, and community!

During the winter, a few hardy souls take a dip in Vermont's Lake Champlain


On a winter day, if you're wandering along the Burlington shores of Vermont's Lake Champlain, you might come across some people in hats, booties and bathing suits, wading between chunks of ice - a polar bear swim club by another name. Vermont Public Radio's Elodie Reed recently joined them for a swim.


ELODIE REED, BYLINE: I am standing in my water shoes in the snow behind the St. Johns Club in Burlington. I'm here with the Red Hot Chilly Dippers.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It's 42 degrees, I think.

REED: The water temperature's 42 degrees?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah, I think so.


REED: Dozens of people, mostly women, perform this ritual regularly, sometimes every day in Vermont's cooler months. People tend to do their own thing in the summertime, but once the temperatures drop, the Chilly Dippers gather and get cold. Tonight, the group is throwing a birthday bash for one of its members - Kika Bronger. And what better way to celebrate than to shed our layers and walk into the 42-degree waters of Lake Champlain? Kika explains the process to one first-time dipper.

KIKA BRONGER: You want some hot water in your bootie?



BRONGER: You didn't see it. It's not as bad as you think. It's hard going in - not going to lie.


BRONGER: It's hard going in. And then you go in, and you're like, what am I doing? And then you get used to it.


BRONGER: But once you're out, you're like a new person.


BRONGER: Like, it really is. Like...

REED: Some describe that post-dip feeling as energy, others as a reset. And people say putting your face in cold water does provide stress relief.


REED: First, of course, we do actually have to go in.


BRONGER: I'm right here. Let's go.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Are we - are we - oh, my god. It's happening.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Oh, my God. All right.

REED: About a dozen of us walk into the murky, purplish water. I follow behind Gigi Veve, who like me has never done this before.

GIGI VEVE: Breathe.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Gigi, this is nice. I swear.



REED: It is not warm. I've only gone up to my waist in order to protect my recording equipment, but after a minute, I can't feel a thing in the lower part of my body.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: It's a little chilly, but it wakes up the soul (laughter).


REED: Then comes the finale, when Kika, who just turned 51, dunks her head in the ice-cold lake five times.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Five, four, three, two, one.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Kika, you animal.


BRONGER: Five dips, one for each decade.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: That's impressive, very impressive.

BRONGER: OK, I'm out.


REED: For NPR News, I'm Elodie Reed in Burlington, Vt.

BRONGER: Thank you, ladies, for that wonderful dip.

(SOUNDBITE OF WILLIAM TYLER'S "KINGDOM OF JONES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elodie has worked as a reporter at the Concord Monitor and the St. Albans Messenger. For the last couple of years she's been working as a freelance journalist as she pursued her MFA in nonfiction writing. She comes back to Vermont from Williamstown, MA.
Related Content

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.