Text by Sue Burns | Photos by Lori Rittinger Photography

The warm weather has retreated just in time to welcome winter, and outdoor activities await. Amid the shopping, cooking, baking and merrymaking, close-to-home opportunities will ensure that everyone has a chance to enjoy the crisp air during the holidays.

Ice Skate Visalia, presented by the city of Visalia’s Parks & Recreation Department, is back. The rink opens for the season on Saturday, Dec. 7, from 2-9 p.m. at the Garden Street Plaza downtown. Skating outdoors, surrounded by the festive Main Street decorations and accompanied by holiday music, is sure to get you into the holiday spirit. Admission is $10 per person and includes skate rental. For more information and the full public skating schedule visit iceskatevisalia.com.

Skating will be held during the Light Up Downtown Holiday Open Houses on Dec. 12 and 19, and Downtown Visalians will be sponsoring “free” skate nights on these dates.  For the price of a stuffed teddy bear, to be donated to first responders and local agencies for children in need, Downtown Visalians will provide four free tickets. Bring teddy bear donations to the office at 120 S. Church St. (Tickets are limited; for more information: downtownvisalia.com.)

Third annual Visalia PAL Resolution 5K and Kids Fun Run
“Resolve” to start 2020 off on New Year’s Day with a healthy run/walk that also supports our community’s children. The Visalia Police Athletic League will use funds raised through the run to offer camperships for next summer’s PAL Honor Camp. About 50 students from grades four through 12 will attend the weeklong camp staffed by Visalia police officers in the Sequoia National Forest.

The family friendly event begins with a Kids 1/4 Fun Run (in view of parents). Kids will receive a special finisher medal. The route for the 5K is a loop run/walk in downtown Visalia. Following the start of the kids’ run, the 5K will take place. All 5K participants will receive a medal and race T-shirt and enjoy snacks at the finish line. There will also be an expo, which will include activities and some surprises.

There is also a “Virtual Race” for those who are not able to be there. Those participants can run the race when and where it’s convenient, even if on a home treadmill. People unable to run can also register for the virtual race. All participants will receive the finisher’s medal and race T-shirt via mail (which accounts for the extra $5 registration cost).

For more information and to register, visit runsignup.com/Race/Events/CA/Visalia/VisaliaPALResolution5K.

20th annual Polar Bear Dip, Gateway Restaurant and Lodge, Three Rivers
If you’re looking for a more adventurous and invigorating start to the year, consider joining 80 to 100 others in a dip into the icy waters of the Kaweah River at noon New Year’s Day. A friend of Gateway owner Glenn McIntyre suggested the event in 2000 after hearing about polar bear swims around the country and figured that the water would be plenty cold here. The event took off and has grown every year over two decades, with several participants, including a large contingent of locals, returning each year. 

In addition to the brave souls who participate by actually taking the dip (water temperatures generally register in the mid-30s to low 40s), many spectators are anticipated as well. Swimmers must sign a release to participate; water levels are at their lowest, but first responders trained in swift-water rescue are on-site.

After dunking themselves in the freezing or rejuvenating (a matter of opinion) water, polar bear wannabes can warm up and feel human again with hot cocoa, coffee and soup when they emerge from the river.

For more information and to register, visit gateway-sequoia.com/event/annual-polar-bear-dip.