Ice swimming: Russia's chilly tradition
Despite temperatures below zero, thousands of Russians plunge into cold water regularly in so-called ice swimming clubs. They claim that mental preparation is half the battle.
Fun in the cold
At minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit), these enthusiasts of winter swimming in Siberia don't seem to mind the cold. Running through the snow, they celebrate the beginning of the winter swimming season in Russia.
Two-year-old Alisa and seven-year-old Liza have to get used to the tradition of winter swimming. In recent years, more than 30,000 people took the plunge in Moscow.
Relaxing in the cold water
No, he is not sitting in a hot bath tub, even though he looks just as relaxed. This man in Novosibirsk seems to enjoy the freezing cold. While most people would fear a heart attack caused by the shock, or at least catching a cold, ice swimming devotees are convinced of its rejuvenating properties.
Russian ice swimmers call themselves "morzhi," which means walruses. They meet every week at their local Walrus Club to dip into the cold water - without any thermal protection, just in regular summer swimsuits.
'Pricked by a thousand needles'
In Novosibirsk, these ice swimmers venture into a water reservoir. One woman reports: "It was like being pricked by a thousand needles at once."
The most popular form of ice swimming in Russia is religious ice baptism. A cross-shaped hole is cut into the ice. Russian Orthodox Christians celebrate the religious holiday of Epiphany on January 19. According to their tradition, water becomes holy on this day: Believers hope to wash away their sins.
Before the October Revolution of 1917, only a few people would swim in frosty waters regularly. The numbers of ice swimming enthusiasts have only increased after the end of the Soviet Union, when the ritual became very popular. That's when religion made a comeback, although the tradition is not officially endorsed by the Orthodox Church.
A dangerous hobby
Ice swimming can be extremely dangerous unless you are a very experienced "walrus". Because body heat can be lost 25 times faster in water than in air, more than three minutes spent in the cold water might lead to a loss of consciousness and could even be life-threatening.