A very cool new year | SummitDaily.com

A very cool new year

Kimberly Nicoletti
Special to the Daily file photoSummit County Water Rescue diver Jeff Barnhardt gears up to spend New Year's Eve 25 feet under icy Dillon Reservoir.

DILLON – While some people spent New Year’s Eve dancing on top of bars, snuggling with a loved one in front of a fire or even bringing in the first 2004 baby, others celebrated the stroke of midnight by jumping into the lake.

It all started when Silverthorne resident Don Johnson said something like, “Let’s jump in the lake on New Year’s Eve,” and his friends said, “OK.”

Johnson dives with the Summit County Water Rescue Team, and the dozen or so active volunteers seem to have a passion for diving into cold water.

“Last summer, I think I brought it up – that we should dive at midnight on New Year’s Eve,” Johnson said. “And they took me seriously.” The idea sounded OK in the middle of summer, but at about 11 p.m. Wednesday, Johnson had second thoughts.

“I was in my warm house, and we had friends over who were showing us pictures of their trip to Panama … but since I had brought it up, I felt obliged,” he said with a laugh.

Had he known what was about to happen, he may have stayed in his cozy house.

“I was the first one in the water, but I forgot to zip my relief zipper – it’s a horizontal zipper so you can whiz,” Johnson said. “It partially flooded the lower half of my dry suit. The worst part is that part of your body is the closest thing to the relief zipper, and it was like, “Oh, man.'”

Johnson crawled out of the hole, zipped up, then went back down, slightly frozen, he said.

Johnson, Jeff Barnhardt and Dave Wisgerhof spent about 10 minutes in the water and dove about 25 feet. Their visibility extended about 10 feet, in contrast to the approximate 6 inches of visibility in summer.

When they turned their underwater lights off and looked up, they could see the glow of the moon through the ice, Johnson said.

“It was a little bit on the surreal side for New Year’s Eve,” Wisgerhof said. “It was very quiet and pleasant. It was cold, but it was a lot warmer than we thought it would be.”

“It was warm in the water. It was 33 degrees,” Barnhardt said. “The air temperature was 22 degrees.”

The team incorporated the dive into one of the training drills it practices every summer weekend and about every two weeks in the winter. The midnight dip combined three technical dives: high elevation, night and ice diving.

Since the team organizes night dives only “occasionally,” and most accidents occur at night in the winter, Barnhardt said, the combination of conditions made the dive a great training opportunity.

The preparation crew cut a 6- to 8-foot, triangular-shaped hole into the ice (which is about 5-6 inches thick) near the Dillon Marina Wednesday afternoon. But that wasn’t the only preparation necessary for the icy dip.

“I’d been prepping everybody for months, pumping them up, telling them, “It’s gonna be cold. It’s gonna be dark,” volunteer Cris Bezinque said.

After all of his enthusiastic cheers, a common cold left Bezinque unable to partake in the frozen pleasure.

“I’m sorry I missed it,” he said. “I was really bummed.”

But Bezinque should have another shot at it in a year.

“I hope to be able to do this every year,” Barnhardt said. “This was one of the more memorable New Year’s Eve experiences for me.”

Bezinque plans to inspire more people to participate in the cool New Year’s dive in 2004-05.

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