Start planning for Polar Fest Plunge

For 19 years, people have been raising their hands and raising eyebrows as they voluntarily jump into a freezing cold lake in the heart of a Minnesota winter.

For 19 years, people have been raising their hands and raising eyebrows as they voluntarily jump into a freezing cold lake in the heart of a Minnesota winter.

The Polar Fest Plunge in Detroit Lakes is set for Valentine’s Day this year - Feb. 14 at 1 p.m.

Registration just opened up for the event this week.

The annual fundraiser to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Detroit Lakes is the largest fundraiser of the year for the club and a Polar Fest favorite.

The club’s executive director, Pat Petermann, says after nearly two decades, the event still continues to increase in popularity.


“Not only is a fundraiser for the kids, but a lot of people just want to experience it once,” said Petermann. “But the thing is, once they do it, they almost always come back and do it again.”

Last year had the largest number of plungers on record, with 231. However, even though last year’s plunge fell in the “polar vortex” of below zero weather, the 164 jumpers raised a record amount - $69,000.

“One thing that’s really enhanced the plungers’ ability to raise money is that they can now do it online,” said Sue Trnka, the club’s resource development director.

Trnka says participants are able to reach friends and relatives all over the country now simply by sharing their fundraising link on

“Last year they raised around $6,000 online, so it’s catching on,” said Trnka.

There are also a number of people who are “bucket list” jumpers, who simply want to “check it off their bucket list,” and for those people, it is $50 to jump.

“With online registration last year we asked people why they’re plunging,” said Trnka, “and a lot indicate that they love the thrill, the Boys and Girls club is a good organization, and I want support it; others say I’ve never done it before and want to give it a try, and they bring friends.”

Incentives for fundraising include a 50 percent discount on t-shirts, $100 raised gets a free t-shirt, $250 gets a t-shirt and Polar Fest towel, $500 gets the t-shirt, the towel and a $100 visa cash card, and $1,000 gets all of those prizes, plus a $250 visa cash card.


Hundreds of spectators also gather to watch the plunge, as many of the jumpers are dressed up in costumes for a contest that gives out prizes of $50, $75, $150 and $250.

Traditionally a hat was passed among those spectators to raise additional funds, but this year they’re shaking things up a bit.

Four teams will be participating in what is called “Tug ‘O Plunge.”

“We know BTD and Webber Family Ford are challenging each other,” said Trnka, who says the Detroit Lakes firefighters and one other undetermined team will face off for a tug of war that leads straight into the lake for the losers.

Spectators will have a chance to bet on who they think will be the last team dry, as they buy tickets to place into the hats of each team.

Somebody will then draw a name out of the winning team’s hat, and one lucky spectator will win $250.

If $1,000 is raised from the Tug ‘O Plunge, Webber Family Ford is matching that.

To add to the festivities, there will also be a beanbag tournament going on.


The 16-team, double-elimination event is $15 per team with the first place prize being tickets to this summer’s Bash on the Beach.

Raffle tickets are also up for grabs now (and on the ice), and this year they have been enhanced from $1,000 worth of cash and prizes to $4,500.

“There’s an ice fishing package that’s valued at over $1,000,” said Petermann, who says there is also a $1,500 living room set, $500 from Central Market, an AstroStart with installation, a vehicle detailing package and several cash and gift certificate prizes.

There will be 1,500 raffle tickets available for purchase at $5 each.

Every year, volunteers running the plunge work to enhance the on-ice experience.

This year they will have two pods for jumpers - one is a sauna and the other is a heated changing room for men. There will be a large, heated trailer for women.

“There are no more hot tubs - they just wouldn’t stay hot after so many people used them,” said Petermann. “So we’re trying dry heat.”

“Prior to getting into the sauna they wait in a heated tent where they can watch the plunge - we have a live feed on the TV in there -then they jump, change and get back to the pavilion,” said Petermann.


The pavilion is where other community members will be hanging out, as the Knights of Columbus start serving up a pancake-French toast breakfast from 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. That’s $5 for adults and $1 for children 12 and under.

The Jaycees then take over at 11 a.m. with chili brats, hot dogs, pop, chocolate milk and beer. That goes until 4 p.m.

The big fundraiser comes just as club staffers are already getting ready for summer.

“We’re hiring staff, re-supplying, fixing some vehicles, replacing computers in the computer lab…” said Trnka, who says they are  currently caring for an average of 130 kids every day after school, serving around 60 meals every night and 100 snacks per day.

To register for the event or more information, log on to .

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Paula Quam joined InForum as its managing digital editor in 2019. She grew up in Glyndon, Minnesota, just outside of Fargo.
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