Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Totally cold' is not too cold for winter swimmers competing in frozen Lake Memphremagog

NEWPORT (AP) — Plunging into a frozen lake and swimming laps may not be everyone's good time but for winter swimmers who return year after year to a northern Vermont lake near the Canadian border, there's nothing better.

The 10th annual Memphremagog Winter Swimming Festival kicked off Friday with the 200-meter freestyle race in a narrow pool cut from the ice. But the festivities started Thursday and on Friday morning some of the 180 participants swam a lap wearing a decorated hat.

"It was amazing. It's the highlight of my year," said Andie Nelson, of Arlington, Virginia, after swimming 25 meters in the hat competition. "It makes me happy."

She planned to compete in all events over the three days and said it's more about the people and comradery than the icy water.

Two swimmers race in lanes surrounded by ice
Charles Krupa
Associated Press
Andie Nelson, of Virginia, right, races Martha Wood, of Manchester, Mass., during the 200 meter freestyle competition during the winter swimming festival on frozen Lake Memphremagog, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, in Newport.

Ted Hirsch, 63, of Boston, and Ed Gabriels, 62, of Germantown, New York, have been competing against each other for about seven years This year, Gabriels beat Hirsh in the 200-meter freestyle.

More: How chilly dipping in Vt. has deepened these Latinas’ connection to nature and each other

A group of women from Canton, Ohio, called the Buckeye Bluetits range in age from 40 to about 80 years old and returned for their fourth year. They swim year-round at Meyers Lake at home but wouldn't miss the chance to swim in Vermont in what organizers say is some of the coldest winter swimming in the world.

"It's the vibe. We have so much fun here and we're amongst friends," Margaret Gadzic said.

People wearing bathing suits walk with green monster-like heads
Charles Krupa
Associated Press
Two swimmers, dressed as the Memphre the Lake Monster, walk across the ice following their lap at the 25 meter hat competition during the winter swimming festival on frozen Lake Memphremagog, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, in Newport.

Winter and ice swimming is defined as swimming in water at 41 Fahrenheit or below, according to organizers. The International Winter Swimming Association lists nine such events around the world this season on its website, with Memphremagog being the only one in the U.S. Other competitions happened in Sweden, Poland, Switzerland and Belgium with one coming up in March in Estonia.

"Our water temperature is 30.5 degrees. It's microscopic slushy. We call it 'totally cold' and it is the coldest — some of the coldest water, coldest swim in the world," said Phil White, the director of Kingdom Games, who added it's the only competitive, 25-meter ice pool in all of the Americas.

Swimmers were escorted out onto the frozen lake in robes and stripped down into their suits just before plunging in. Once they finished, escorts handed them towels and robes before they were walked to a nearby warming building.

A person wearing a bathing suit walks on ice as they and other people raise their hands in celebration
Charles Krupa
Associated Press
Julie Zeitlinger, of Quebec, Canada, is congratulated by a swim team from Dayton, Ohio, following her performance at the 200 meter freestyle competition in the winter swimming festival on frozen Lake Memphremagog, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, in Newport.

This year, swimmers came from as far away as Mexico and England as well as from California, Arizona, Texas, the Northeastern U.S. and British Columbia.

Nelson, of Virginia, was so excited she didn't get much sleep Thursday night before the 200-meter swim. She said she inhaled some water and felt nauseous after eating lunch an hour earlier so she had to slow down her pace.

"It was still fun," she said.

More from Vermont Public: How dunking in the icy waters of Lake Champlain helps one woman grieving the loss of her husband

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Latest Stories