British Columbia

Go jump in a lake: Why these women swim in ice-cold conditions

A group called the 'Chilly Dippers' in Kelowna, B.C., gather for a unique physically distanced activity — swimming in an ice cold lake.

‘Chilly Dippers’ spend up to 3 minutes in Okanagan Lake to lift spirits and connect with friends

A group of friends called the 'Chilly Dippers' get together through the winter to go for a dip in an icy lake. (Alexis MacMillan)

As British Columbians continue to find unique ways to connect with loved ones while maintaining a two-metre distance between each other, a group of friends in the Okanagan have found a fresh way to stay in touch — by sitting in an ice-cold lake. 

The group calls themselves the 'Chilly Dippers,' and whenever a member of the group needs a pick-me-up, they gather at a secret beach on Okanagan Lake to connect and go for a dip. 

"It does sound crazy," dipper Kyla Ramirez told Radio West host Sarah Penton. 

"Those days that feel tough, sometimes you just gotta do something that feels tough, and then you feel better."

Housecoats, toques and mittens are the 'Chilly Dippers' uniform of choice when they go swimming in sub-zero temperatures in Okanagan Lake. (Alexis MacMillan)

Submerging their bodies in chilly water makes everyone in the group feel better both physically and mentally, Ramirez said, which has been especially beneficial during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We have all felt better after. It's hard. But we get together and it's just nice to do it together and feel connected," she said.

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"We started as a really eclectic group. None of us really knew each other. We just became this little team through the winter. It's a beautiful thing to have during this time."

When the group formed two winters ago, they would only spend about 30 seconds in the frigid water. Now, they spend up to three minutes swimming around. 

Nowadays, Ramirez said the water is a "balmy" 11 C, but they've gone out when it was –18 C outside and 2 C in the water. 

Each member of the group reacts differently to the colder temperatures; some scream and swear, and some are calm and quiet.

Hanging out in a chilly lake, at least two metres apart, is this group's cool way of connecting during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Alexis MacMillan)

On those extra-chilly days, they go out on the beach covered in housecoats, wearing toques and mittens. 

"People are wondering what the heck is going on," she said.

"Sometimes winter can get people down. It used to be every Saturday. Now we all know that it helps us. If we're feeling in a funk, we send out a text and whoever can show up shows up and we just get into the water and we all feel better after."

In fact, the group doesn't go in the water during the summer months, so soon they'll be taking a break until the fall. Ramirez said it just doesn't have the same effect when the air is warmer.

"I find it harder in the summer because it's so hot outside and the water just feels cold," she said.

With files from Radio West