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Jump into 2023 with Polar Bear Plunge

| December 28, 2022 1:00 AM

Ready to jumpstart the new year?

Boy Scouts Troop 111 has just the thing — its annual Polar Bear Plunge.

The annual event — held Jan. 1 as a cooperative event by Boy Scout Troop 111 and the city of Sandpoint’s Parks & Recreation Department — attracts dozens of area residents. Some years, there are only a few hardy souls; others, there can be as many as 100 or more.

The event will begin at 11 a.m. at the Sandpoint City Beach boat launch. All are welcome.

Along with other stalwart souls, there will be heated changing tents and more to help plungers warm up after their jump into the lake.

The event is free and open to the public.

Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said the city has processed the special event permit for the plunge.

"We're thankful for the warmer temperatures this week for it," she added.

For Boy Scout Troop 111 leader Phil Voelz, this year's plunge will be a little different than past events. It's the first year that his son, Jeremiah, won't be around to take part because he is stationed at Norfolk Naval Station in Norfolk, Va.

He is excited, however, that the troop will once again be able to invite the public to join in the fun.

"This is something that the Troop wants to share," Voelz said. "My favorite part is seeing everyone show up excited to do something that most people think is crazy."

The scouts’ adoption of the Polar Bear Plunge began in 2015 after the troop heard stories about how Voelz would water ski on New Year’s Day in California. Since it’s too cold to water ski in North Idaho on Jan. 1, the scouts decide to adopt the traditional jump in the lake.

More than 15 scouts took part that first year, with about the same number taking part in 2016. For the troop, it's all about the tradition, doing something fun together and challenging themselves.

"Well, I think we're definitely crazy guys," Voelz said in 2021 when the troop held the plunge at a frozen Mirror Lake at Camp Stidwell. "The troop is kind of known for that as well and we attract that kind of craziness, having fun regardless of your circumstances. Something the boys have heard me say a million times, is there is no such thing as bad weather, just poor choice in clothing. And so, you know, we got a fire, we can warm back up, we're not going to die — probably.

"This is kind of who we are. We do crazy things, you know. And in the midst of not being able to do things, we're still going to do them in a safe way if we can. We're going to find a way to navigate that and still do our crazy stuff."

The troop takes care in setting up the event, arriving several hours earlier to cut a hole in the ice, set up safety equipment and talk through potential problems. Scouts trained in first aid — and the appropriate equipment — are on hand and ready to assist any plunger who runs into trouble, Voelz said.

Voelz said the footwork and set-up needed to put the Polar Bear Plunge on are his "least favorite" part of the event. Mainly because it is "over in about an hour."

However, that preparation and planning are part of what scouting is about, Voelz said in the past. Boy Scouts, leaders and scouts prepare and plan ahead on how to do things in a fun — but safe — manner. The plunge is just another example of that.

"You can do this and be stupid, right," Voelz said in 2021. "You can do this and be very dumb and somebody gets hurt going underneath the ice or something very bad happens. But we do it in a safe manner — or as safe as possible, I mean it is frozen water … So it's maybe not totally safe but it's done in a safe manner."

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(Photo by CAROLINE LOBSINGER)

Boy Scout Troop 111 scout leader Phil Voelz drinks a cup of coffee to warm up after taking part in a past Polar Bear Plunge.

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(File photo/CAROLINE LOBSINGER)

A Polar Bear Plunge participant does a backflip into Lake Pend Oreille as he takes part in a past event.