Lake Champlain Chilly Dipping

Lake Champlain Chilly Dipping

Two years ago, we asked our friend and local artist Charlotte Dworshak to photograph our new spring collection. In the process, we learned about her mom, renowned watercolor artist Katherine Montstream, and her monthly winter plunges into Lake Champlain. We were fascinated, so Char agreed to write us a story and give us a glimpse into her mom's unique habit. 

In the years since, Kath's solo dipping has grown into a daily routine and spawned a full-fledge cold-water movement. On any given day, groups of brave souls flock to the frozen shores to test their nerves and clear their minds. The heavy traffic to the icy winter waterfront has not gone unnoticed. Kath and the Red Hot Chilly Dippers have been featured on the local news, and recently, National Geographic reporter Amy Toensing photographed the community of dunkers while on location for a story about the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

Eager to catch up with Kath and learn about the growth of the winter dipping movement firsthand, we shadowed one of her solo dips in mid-March.

So we've heard of the Wim Hof method, but what about cold weather dipping appeals to you? What draws you in day after day?
Wim Hof has certainly brought a new level of popularity to the practice of winter dipping. The appeal and benefit for me is partly how close we live to this big, beautiful lake; it's just down the hill and then there's the question, "Can we get in today?" The answer is almost always "YES!"  Beyond the obvious visual appeal of the lake, there's the adventure, the endorphins, the head clearing, the challenge, the community, the defiance, the friendships, the reset, the triumph and the smiles. To go everyday satisfies a huge curiosity for me – What will the lake look like today? And what tools do we need to get in? 

How's dipping different now than it was three years ago?
Three years ago, I mostly dipped solo, and under less harsh conditions. If I didn't see a way in, then I left. Today, I can find little corners that can be crushed in with a sledgehammer, or our friend Marti will bring down her badass ice saw and we will get in! 

How has the dipping community grown over the years?
The pandemic really grew the dipping community. As we all were desperate for ways to play outside and get out of our heads, this seemed like a perfect fit for a lot of people. The Instagram page let people see the joy that we were experiencing, and thus many folks started messaging me "When are you going again?" Soon, we were keeping a list and inviting people to community Open Dips. It grew by accident, really. It was never an intention, it just sort of snowballed. It seemed like we should maybe name the group and after a number of lame attempts, my youngest came up with the Red Hot Chilly Dippers. Done.

What's your favorite part about the dipping community?

My favorite part about this crazy community of dippers is we're all on the same page. It's just seamless – "Let's go. Let's do this. I'm in! Good lord! Breathe! I'm out!" – and it's all good. So many have found the benefits and then it becomes a little bit of an obsession; you crave it. And luckily, it's pretty easy to quiet the desire to go in; you just take a break, and head to the lake.  Like a zombie with arms stretched out and swirly eyes, I feel like that's what I must look like at times.

Eager to learn more, or give it a go yourself?

Check out this Stuck in Vermont piece on Kath and the Red Hot Chilly Dippers: