LAKE GEORGE -- Brianne Bonter stepped off Million Dollar Beach, draped in her towel and wearing a bikini. On her feet were a pair of tan work boots, covered with snow.
“I had never thought about doing this before, but my stepfather said, ‘Hey, you want to do this with me?’ And I figured, why not?” said Bonter, 16, who traveled from Voorheesville for Tuesday’s annual Lake George Polar Plunge.
“I got very exhilarated,” said Ryan Bonter, who had already changed back into street clothes. “And I am really excited now, because I can feel my feet.”
The Bonters were among an estimated 1,200 people who took part in an unusual version of the Lake George Winter Carnival’s annual fundraiser.
The event, usually held at Shepard Park Beach, had to be moved because the usual site had mats in the water that were installed to combat Asian clams.
In addition, the weather was unusually cold for the 40th annual plunge. The air temperature was in the mid-20s, and the water was about 35 degrees, according to committee member Mike Chimiak.
“It was a lot warmer last year,” said Linda Duffy, who has run the event for the past 12 years. In 2012, air temperatures close to 50 brought out the biggest crowd in the event’s history.
“The numbers this year are down a little bit,” said Duffy. “We had more than 1,500 last year, but with the weather and the change in site, we were down. I don’t know exactly, but I would estimate it at 1,200.”
Last year, Duffy and her staff had to run three waves of plungers at the crowded Shepard Park Beach, but the new site was larger and easily handled the first two waves of between 500 and 550. The third wave was much smaller, comprising about 50 people.
The event, organized by the Lake George Winter Carnival, which will have its major events in February, was aimed at raising money for food pantries in Lake George, Duffy said.
“We know people are having a tough time, and it seemed like we should help the people of Lake George,” she said.
Duffy remembers having 125 plungers the year she took over, and she hopes for a return to Shepard Park in 2014.
“It’s just so much easier,” she said, standing inside her family’s business, Duffy’s Tavern, which overlooks the traditional site. The venue change meant higher costs for the organizers, including needing buses to transport plungers and higher setup costs.
“I hope they smother the heck out of those clams,” she said.
The change also resulted in midsummer-style traffic jams along the south end of the lake, with many people choosing to walk from the village or other parking lots. Others fought the snow at the beach parking lot, jamming it with cars. Snowmobilers, who were able to pull right up to the beach, snagged the best parking spots.
A festive scene
This year’s event drew many costumed plungers, including several from the comic book movie “The Avengers.” There was also a man in formal evening wear, Uncle Sam, various bikinis, including one with American flag colors, and a smattering of loud Hawaiian-print swimsuits.
One plunger brought a small camouflage tent to change in.
Dave Massaro, of Scotia, wore a rainbow wig, orange shorts and knee-high argyle socks.
“If you are going to come out and look ridiculous, you might as well look ridiculous,” he said.
Massaro decided he needed to dive in twice because his brother was late for the first wave. “Hey, it’s what being a brother is all about,” he said.
Rachele Putnick and Erin McCane, both 18 and from Queensbury, have joined with two other friends to participate each year.
“It’s just a really fun way to start the New Year,” Putnick said. “Today, I actually went all the way under. That was different.”
Like many others who went in, Putnick and McCane, along with their friends Miranda Cordiale and Erin Rice, also of Queensbury, warmed up with a spirited dance session at the direction of a Zumba fitness instructor.
“I have probably done this five or six times now,” McCane said. “This time was definitely a bit colder.”