BEAR LAKE — If these dark winter mornings are making it hard to fully wake up, a plunge into the cold waters of Bear Lake might jump start the process.
An entire group of people, many of them wearing costumes, will be taking part in a “Monster Plunge” into the lake’s cold waters on Saturday as part of the 11th annual Bear Lake Monster Winterfest this weekend.
“The goal of the event is just to bring awareness to Bear Lake, mainly, that it’s a year-round destination,” said Tami Leonhardt, director of Bear Lake Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, “and then just to celebrate the Cisco (fish) that come (this time of year), and it’s just a fun winter activity ... Bear Lake is pretty awesome in the winter time.”
The Winterfest will run from Friday, Jan. 24, through Sunday, Jan. 26, with activities beginning between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. — and ending around 10 p.m. — on Friday and Saturday. A pancake breakfast will be held from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sunday morning.
Most events will be held at Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina, 940 N. Bear Lake Blvd., and Sunrise Resort and Event Center, 865 N. Harbor Village East Drive. Both are in Garden City.
The Winterfest is Bear Lake’s biggest annual winter event, according to the event’s website.
If the monster plunge isn’t your cup of ice-cold tea, there are many other activities to choose from, such as a chance to try out winter sports like tubing and snowshoeing on Friday, followed by a family social Friday night featuring a children’s movie and hot chocolate bar.
Other activities throughout the weekend include a 5K, chili cook-off, outdoor expo with food trucks, cardboard regatta (competitors build and race in cardboard boats), a sampler of local restaurant specialties, and a “Cisco Disco” Tournament. The tourney features competitors catching small Cisco fish, unique to Bear Lake, aiming to catch “Bear Lake’s largest/longest Bear Lake Monster bait.”
The full schedule of activities is available at the event website, bearlakemonsterwinterfest.com.
The state park entrance fee will be waived for those attending the event, the website states.
Activities vary in cost. The winter sports and trails activities on Friday are free, and a free shuttle will also be provided to the areas where the activities will be held. The family social Friday evening is also free, including the food.
Other activities range in cost from $5 to register for the chili cook-off to $30 per jumper for the Monster Plunge ($35 on the day of).
The 5K held Saturday morning is $25 for adults and $15 for kids, with a discount price of $55 for a family of four.
The Cisco Disco Tournament doesn’t have an admission fee, but participants must pay the state park entrance fee and have valid fishing licenses.
While the majority of visitors come to the event for day trips, those who choose to lodge in the area can enjoy the stars in the valley’s clear and dark skies — “it just lights up,” Leonhardt said.
“We don’t have the inversion up here, so you can see everything,” she continued. “It’s just a nice destination.”
The Winterfest, which started in 2010 according to the Bear Lake Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website, actually began with the Cisco Disco.
A years’ long tradition at the lake, Cisco Disco began with a group of people gathering at the lake in January to catch the small fish, to store up as bait for larger fish.
January is the best time to catch Cisco because that is the time of year when they spawn, Leonhardt said.
Traditionally there has also been a big fish fry during the disco — helping to take the edge off the biting cold — and this year’s Cisco Disco will be no different.
“For years, the Cisco Disco had been drawing crowds to the lake in the winter,” the convention’s website reads. “The Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau reasoned that they could build on this — add a social, a chili cook-off, perhaps a polar plunge-type event and some vendors. In 2018, the Bear Lake Monster Winterfest marked its ninth year, and it continues to grow.”
This year, the event aims to raise money for The Family Place (thefamilyplaceutah.org), a nonprofit in Cache Valley that provides a variety of services for families, including a shelter for children transitioning to foster care, low-cost therapy for families and individuals, parenting classes and other education for families, as well as free, temporary childcare.