Ice Swimming: an Unbelievable Russian Tradition

Photo by Sergey Pesterev on Unsplash

If you live near the beach, you probably spend Winter and Spring waiting for the waters to warm up. In Russia, people see no reason to wait.

Winter in Russia is notoriously long and painful and water temperatures reach as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius. For 30,000 people in Moscow, this is the perfect temperature for a refreshing winter swim.

It is a Russian tradition for the people to smash the ice and dunk into the icy waters three times. They don’t do it because they like the way the cold water feels, they do it because of the cold water’s rejuvenating properties.

Some locals meet weekly to perform this strange activity while others will do it once a year. The feeling of plunging into icy waters is the equivalent of being stabbed by a thousand needles. The feeling after, however, is said to be wonderful.

For about ten minutes after exposing oneself to such extreme temperatures, the body warms up rapidly. By giving the system a shock like this, one’s worries are zapped away as pure survival mode kicks in. Fans of this tradition describe the feeling after as “one of complete clarity” and travelers who have reluctantly tried out the custom have experienced something similar.

We are not advocating this extreme activity as exposing the body to severe temperatures can be dangerous. As far as traditions go though, this one is pretty incredible.