Do single-digit Alaska temperatures sound like perfect swimming weather to you? How about water temperature of a balmy 39 degrees Fahrenheit with a little snowfall?
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Do single-digit Alaska temperatures sound like perfect swimming weather to you? How about water temperature of a balmy 39 degrees Fahrenheit with a little snowfall? Would wearing a crazy costume help? Motivated to prove their toughness and raise money for the American Cancer Society, a hearty group of Alaskan folks meet up in Seward the third weekend each January for the Polar Bear Jump—a tradition more than 30 years old.
With snow-covered peaks behind them, jumpers back flip and belly flop into the frigid water in everything from swimsuits to cowboy and pirate costumes. People bus in from Anchorage for the weekend, and nearly the whole town turns out to support the event in one way or another.
The festivities of the Polar Bear Jump last for an entire weekend, including a parade from downtown to the harbor. And you don’t have to leap into the harbor yourself to participate. You can raise funds by entering one of the other events, from a hot-wing eating contest to a poker tournament to a quilt show. You can compete in a karaoke contest or enter your handiwork in a craft show. But obviously, the big draw of the weekend—the thing everyone really comes out for—is the jump itself. Crowds come from all over the region to watch the jumpers, who gather sponsors to raise money.
The frigid water can be shocking to jumpers, so a team of divers from the local fire department and the Seward Volunteer Ambulance Corps stand by to help anyone who struggles. And on Saturday evening, the top 10 jumpers and costume winners are announced on a live radio show from the Liberty Theater in Seward.
Jumpers have to be on their game just to reserve a slot—when registration opens in late summer, the spots are usually filled within a few weeks. Magazines, newspapers and websites from around the world have covered the event, including Outside Magazine and USA Today.
This year, 86 participants raised over $100,000 for the American Cancer Society and local organization Children with Cancer. The Polar Bear Jump is one of the most fun, community-building events to check out in Seward.