Winterfest a success despite lack of snow 

Fresh event draws hardiest 25 to One Mile Lake

Despite a lack of snow, the Pemberton Winter Festival was a success. The indoor events, including two arts shows, drew substantial crowds; a handful of young athletes received scholarships to pursue their Olympic dreams, and the brave and the crazy gathered at One Mile Lake for an off-season Polar Bear dip in the frigid waters.

"I now know what people drowning in cold water feel like!" said Renka Daito.

The Polar Bear Swim, which attracted 25 of Pemberton’s hardiest, was added to the program at the last minute when it became apparent snow wasn’t in the cards. With a demonstration of winter sports such as snowmobiling and skijoring cancelled, organizers added the Polar Swim at the last minute.

Daito, who managed to stay in the icy water for six minutes and 55 seconds, is now the official record holder. However, she’s not sure she’ll defend her title next year.

" It depends on whether we’re here or not," she said.

On the afternoon of the swim the ice on the right hand side of the lake was thick enough to support small kids, recounted Daito, who said it took her quite a while to warm up.

"For quite a while after I couldn’t feel my fingers and toes. That’s where hypothermia starts," said the Pemberton Secondary School student.

In the end, Daito suffered only a cracked toenail and received a cooler bag, that she described as being "pretty cool" for her efforts.

Daito wasn’t the only youth who had a good time at the annual festival. Close to 60 high school seniors attended a weekend Youth Forum that, while not officially part of Winter Fest, was held in conjunction with the three-day festival.

Four young athletes came closer to realizing their Olympic dreams at Snowdown, the festival’s Saturday night dance. A Chance for Kids, a non-profit organization founded by the Pemberton Spirit of BC – the central organizing body that puts on Winterfest – granted $16,000 to these young athletes living in the Sea-to-Sky corridor.

Paddler Heather Hellevang, 20, of Pemberton; mountain biker Neal Kindree, 18, of Squamish, cyclist Will Routley, 22, of Whistler and Nordic skier Sydney Vanloon each received financial support to offset training expenses.

A Chance for Kids society chair Lonne Clark was justifiably proud of the fledgling organization’s accomplishment.

"This is the first of what we hope will be a growing number of individuals we are able to help each year," said Clark. "But that depends upon our fund raising ability and the support of the community."

Clark described the selection process as being "nothing short of daunting," as the area is home to many gifted young athletes.

The Second Annual A Chance for Kids Golf Tournament will be hosted later this spring, with a May date currently be examined. Last year’s golf tournament raised the bulk of funds distributed this year.

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