They run onto the snow, laughing and screaming. The group of semi-naked men and women are wearing bikinis, straw skirts or bathing suits. The only items of clothing that might keep them warm are their winter boots, hats and gloves. This is the scene at the Quebec Winter Carnival in Quebec, Canada.
Snowballs fly and there are cheers and howls of encouragement from the crowd.
The giant chubby Michelin-man-like snowman and ambassador of the Quebec Winter Carnival, Bonhomme, rocks happily from side to side as he frolics with the bathers.
Some of are doing a jig to to keep warm while a few hardy souls throw themselves on the ground, making angels in the snow.
I’ve been freezing in the cold for about half an hour. The temperature is around -6C and my fingers and toes feel like they have turned blue.
My nose is numb and although I’m dressed in layers (two layers of thermal underwear, a fleece jacket, a winter ski shell, ski pants, hat and gloves), my teeth are chattering. But I’m glad to be here as it’s the wildest, wackiest spectacle I’ve ever seen.
The Snow Bath is an event you shouldn’t miss at the Quebec Winter Carnival, which is held in Quebec City each year and is one of the world’s largest winter festivals.
The centrepiece of the festival is Bonhomme’s Ice Palace, which is a fairy tale construction made with 300 tons of ice.
I grew up near the Equator and have lived in tropical and semi-tropical regions most of my life. Prancing in the snow with next to nothing on is not an activity I had considered for my bucket list.
After 10 minutes of freezing frivolity, the scantily clad bathers are ushered back into the warm-up area and another group marches forward onto the stage.
The night before, Jenn, Molly and Kathleen had tried to persuade me to join them. They were in the third group.
Watch this video to see what they did to prepare:
Quebec Winter Carnival
Every year, thousands of visitors flock to the Québec Winter Carnival to enjoy a host of activities for all ages, including the snow bath. There is a glittering night parade and an impressive snow sculpture exhibition.
The programme offers entertainment for all ages, including shows, sleigh rides, ice fishing, dog sledding, snow slides and skating.
It has been a dream of mine to attend the Quebec Winter Carnival.
Although the sub-zero temperatures were a shock, there were plenty of indoor cafes and restaurants to warm up in while sipping on a cup of soup, a glass of wine or a mug of hot chocolate.
I’m looking forward to going again. Maybe next year, I’ll be brave enough to take my clothes off.
The writer was a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission, Tourisme Quebec and Quebec City Tourism.
Hilton Quebec is a five-star hotel conveniently located within walking distance of the carnival grounds and offers fabulous bird-eye views.
For more things to do in Canada see Best of Canada.