27 years ago in the high alpine reaches of the Sierra Nevada Mountains between the American states of California and Nevada, discussions about winter swimming were tossed about and then began to get more lively.
Given the fact that the discussions were held in an famed local drinking establishment, the discussions and challenges gradually began to take on outlandish proportions.
Sitting at the edge of Lake Tahoe, the visionaries of the Gar Woods Polar Bear Swim wanted to do something different. They liked the idea of a polar bear swim, but they did not think just walking into a near-frozen lake and getting wet was enough. They wanted something more.
10 feet from shore was not enough. Not 100 feet. Not 100 yards. No, they envisioned more. Much more.
At an altitude of 6,229 feet in Lake Tahoe’ water under 5°C, they challenged folk to swim to the end of the pier in front of the Gar Woods Grill & Pier.
The 250-yard swim in Carmelian Bay at 1,898 meters feels especially cool. With a cut-off time of 20 minutes, a lively, well-bundled crowd gathers to see who is the fastest, the most colorful, and the slowest (who receives a free drink from Gar Woods Grill & Pier).
It is one of the original winter swims in the New World – and certainly one of the most fun as part of North Lake Tahoe SnowFest, the annual Mardi Gras in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The 27th annual Gar Woods Polar Bear Swim will be held on February 28th at 2:30 pm. The awards ceremony is held after at the Gar Woods Speedboat Bar with hot tubs, complimentary appetizers and raffle prizes donated by sponsors.
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