2016 new year rung in on the river
GLENWOOD CANYON — They are the closest thing our region has to a Polar Bear Club, carrying on an icy tradition older than many of those in attendance.
On Friday 40 to 50 kayakers, whitewater rafters, stand-up paddleboarders and more braved the freezing cold waters of the Colorado River, floating the Shoshone section of rapids in Glenwood Canyon just west of the Eagle County line. Many from the Vail Valley were in attendance, in fact both of the day’s “swimmers” — those who were forced from their vessel and into the icy river — were local residents. Stand up paddleboarder Brent Redden was one of them.
“I was kind of getting sucked under a piece of ice,” he said. “I just lost my balance. The board gets really slick … I feel like I have frostbite, but I feel alive.”
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AGES 10 TO 61
That statement, “I feel alive” was echoed by all on Friday, and is what unites New Year’s swimmers across cultures and continents. Celebrated in Europe, Asia, Australia and North America alike, winter swimming is said to have health benefits to go with the risks, including decreases in stress and increases in vigor.
Todd Wicklund said in general, participating in the annual event makes him feel happy and healthy.
“We used to do it in the ’70s,” he said. “There wasn’t as many boaters around back then. It’s nice to see there’s so many now.”
At 61 years old, Wicklund was among the oldest participants in the Friday float. Opposite Wicklund was Maddy Kellogg of the Kellogg family of boaters — she is just 10 years old and completed the New Year’s Day float for the first time on Friday.
“I’ve done Shoshone before but never in the winter,” she said.
The Kelloggs were a few of the many recognizable faces from the boating world in attendance on Friday. Marty Cronin, the vice president of sales from Jackson Kayak, also joined in the event for his third time. Peter Holcombe, the unofficial organizer, came in from Tennessee just to participate in the float.
“I’ve been doing it about 10-12 years now,” he said. “Our lowest temperature has been 7 degrees, and that year we had 12 or 13 people. Then we had a year where it was 40 degrees, and we had about 70 people.”
Local resident Ken Hoeve, another familiar face in the kayaking world, stood out among the crowd as the person who looked the least like he had joined in the float. While most emerged from the river covered in ice, Hoeve looked like something out of an ad for the Michael Kors winter collection. From his stand up paddleboard, he said he didn’t have so much as a drop of water splash him.
“I stepped onto the board, did the float and walked right off,” he said. “Not a splash.”
On the other end of that spectrum, Erik Corkran of Evergreen deliberately swam the Shoshone stretch of river on Friday, with a body board under his torso and fins on his feet.
“I got in and was surprised by how warm I was,” Corkran said.
Holcombe says he starts rallying the community on Dec. 1 with phone calls, emails and postings on the Internet.
“I just love this day,” he said. “It’s almost like a festival, we’re having so much fun here. But it’s completely underground, just people getting together for the sake of paddling.”