Some people like to unwind in winter with a good book and a cup of tea. These Ottawa women have found a different way to chill, and others are diving right in behind them.
Judith Lockett says she first tried "ice dipping" in the fall of 2020 when she and her friends Marthanne Robson, Luigina Fabrianesi and Alexandra Gorodnichy were swimming in The Pond in Rockcliffe Park.
"The ice came and then we said, 'Well, why don't we just keep going through the ice?'" said Lockett.
When access to The Pond was closed for the winter, the group moved to a new location on the Ottawa River, near the Blair Road boat launch.
"We established ourselves here in the river, and now we have three dipping spots and we come every day and do our thing, and it's awesome," Lockett said.
Lockett said the four women started carving holes in the ice like "four mad women with their hatchets," while Fabrianesi — who is a chef — would use a meat cleaver.
"Every day we'd have to come and open the holes because they'd freeze overnight," she said. "It looked like absolute madness."
Mike Paré recently joined the group, and his auger, ice saw and tongs come in handy. He said 15-20 centimetres of ice can form over the holes each night.
Paré isn't new to ice plunging — he has a stock tank at home and was jumping into ice cold water in his backyard up until he ran into Lockett.
"One day late fall ... I came down for a swim and there was a lady, Judith, in the water already. Struck up conversation and turned out there was a large number of crazy ladies who met here every day around noon and swam in the cold water," Paré said.
"They told me last year they would cut a hole in the ice and sit in it for quite a while. So that's very similar to what I do in the backyard, except with a much better backdrop Ottawa River [with] Gatineau across the way. So I started joining them and been loving it."
Cold is now 'my little friend'
Paré said everyone has their own reason for dipping into the frigid waters. For him, this helps him work through severe cold sensitivity developed from cancer treatments.
"I was afraid of the cold. I would layer up beyond belief just not to have to experience the cold," he said.
Then a spa experience with the hot-cold cycle left him thinking "this isn't so bad, this feels great."
"It just turned into a relationship with the cold where I just embraced the cold. It's kind of like my little friend now."
The group has since grown even more, and this creates an opportunity for socializing, said Fabrianesi, who loves how the cold gets her going.
"I really find the big shock, boost yourself and be happy all day," she said.
Robson pointed to the noted health benefits of the cold bath such as "reduced inflammation, reduced pain, great energy." She also echoed Fabrianesi's sentiments about how the social aspect has helped during the pandemic.
"I think what we found, because it was the middle of the pandemic, we were in this really heavy lockdown and you just needed to do something and there was something so joyful about being together," said Robson. "There are no grumpy people who cold-water dip."
Tips for new dippers
Dipping isn't for the faint of heart, and some stay in longer than others, said Lockett, depending on "your own body and your own tolerance for the cold."
"There's no prize for how long you stay in for, and there's no magical amount of time you have to stay in," she said, adding those who want to start dipping should not begin when the winter is coldest.
"If you start in the fall, as it gets colder and colder, you develop your own techniques for how to get dressed, and in what order to do things, and the kind of equipment that you need to support yourself."
A cold shower at home could be a good starting point, she said. Then one could try to dip in the fall before advancing to when the snow falls and the temperature consistently dips below the freezing mark.