LAKE GEORGE - The diehards were as lively and crazy as ever, but it was a smaller crowd of revelers and thrill-seekers who threw their goose-pimpled bodies into the near-freezing lake on Tuesday for the 2008 New Year's Day Polar Plunge Swim.

Undaunted by the thick falling snow that seemed to have thinned their ranks, participants lined the shore of Shepard Park Beach, stripped down to their bathing suits at the brink of the murky, gray water, backed by a murky, gray sky.

As if the main event wasn't enough to make the polar plungers seem pretty silly, many were dressed in wacky costumes or assorted polar paraphernalia.

"We try to get as polar bear-festive as possible," said Aly Birch, who was wearing polar bear ears on her head and polar bear-printed pants. Her dad had a small stuffed bear affixed to his ball cap, and her mom was dressed all in white, including a polar bear-shaped hat.

The family comes up from New York City to their house in Ticonderoga for the event every year. Their city friends think they're nuts, they said, but they love the tradition.

"This is fun; it's cathartic," said Jeff Birch, the father.

"Once you do it, you'll do it every year," said Ellen Birch, the mother.

Only about 650 people signed up for this year's plunge, said Linda Duffy, co-chair of the Lake George Winter Carnival. That's down from more than 850 last year. Duffy speculated the snow was keeping people home.

About four to five inches of fresh snow had fallen in Lake George by 2 p.m., when the event took place, and the air temperature was about 30 or 31 degrees, according to Brian Whitley, meteorologist at North Country Weather. Duffy said the water temperature was 32 or 33 degrees.

The slight difference between air and water temperatures was the reason most people stripped down beforehand. The theory holds that, the colder you get beforehand, the warmer the water will seem.

A group of Glens Falls teenagers figured dressing up as Superman, Catwoman, the Flash, the Hulk, the Green Lantern and Wonder Woman would help them do the plunge.

"Because we're superheroes," explained the Hulk, Joe Bethel, 16.

"We have superpowers," said Superman, Matt Rowell, 16, who was still shivering in his shorts and cape. "He's not shivering; he's getting pumped," corrected Catwoman, aka Eileen Lapann, 17.

Icy slush was forming on the surface of the lake as the crowd pressed forward on the snow-covered beach. Little children and graying adults whipped themselves into a frenzy as they waited the last frigid minutes before rushing in, whooping and hollering.

For most people, the swim lasted a fraction as long as the wait. While a few strange souls splashed around in the water for 15 or 20 minutes, most went in, ducked down and got out, grinning and shaking and shivering.

A new year had begun, but their swim had ended.

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