Enter into a completely different world of diving than what you know. An exciting adventure with crazy creatures, exceptional visibility and extreme diving conditions, definitely not for the feint hearted! Truly rewarding and if you like cold water diving then this is the kind of diving for you.
Embarking on an ice diving adventure takes a lot of preparation and extra skills. You will need to be an advanced diver (or rescue diver is better) with excellent buoyancy and complete courses such as Dry Suit Specialty and Ice Diving Specialty. You will need to know things such as how ice forms, safety factors like recognising unsafe ice conditions and equipment failure in an enclosed environment, also how to prepare the dive site. For something special you can even take a PADI Polar Diving Specialty course in the Arctic or Antarctic and be one of the very few people in the world to have this certification!
Because the conditions are so extreme, special equipment is required, which can set you back a lot of money if you're purchasing it for yourself. Some dive centres will provide you with the equipment for training but remote adventures will most likely require you to bring your own, especially for chartered recreational dives. Weights and tanks are supplied but you will need a dry suit with hood, thick thermal under garments, gloves, 2 regulators with freeze protection and pressure gage, stabilising jacket or BCD with quick release, dive computer or depth gage with timing device, compass, knife and torch, mask, fins and snorkel. That's a lot of stuff! Especially if you're taking a flight to the destination so be prepared to pay for extra baggage.
Other than spectacular ice formations and landscapes with superb visibility, you can expect to see marine life such as snails, crabs, sea butterflies, brightly coloured star fish, interesting jellyfish, various types of cold water fish species and the extra special stuff such as penguins, seals, maybe even a leopard seal and for the truly lucky; a whale! Imagine that.
So where can you find the best ice diving in the world? Well, to start with you need to do your training, which can be done in places like the White Sea in Northern Russia or northern European countries, The Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Polar Specialty can only be done in Antarctica, Spitsbergen and Greenland. Once your courses are complete, try ticking some of the follow spectacular locations off your ice diving list.
MCMURDO SOUND, ANTARTICA
Voted the best ice dive in the world, McMurdo Sound is the ultimate in cold water diving. It's difficult to get to and water temperatures sometimes fall to around -40°C in the water so you can only dive in the summer months from Sept-Feb where the water temp is around -1°C. After you break through up to 3 metres of ice (by boring, chipping and even exploding the ice!), you'll be ready to enter the clearest water in the world with visibility of around 300 metres.
Once you plunge into the icy waters and your eyes adjust to the change in light, you will be rewarded with colourful sea life such as sponges, starfish, urchins, anemones, jellyfish, amazing soft corals and Emperor Penguins dancing around you, trying to catch a tasty morsel.
1000 ISLANDS, CANADA
The 1000 Islands area in Canada is located on the eastern stretch of the St Lawrence Seaway System, which is the longest inland waterway in the world at almost 4000km long. Cruise past gorgeous, picturesque islands before plunging into the crisp, fresh water.
Here you will experience some very unique adventures such as ice diving from an air boat (a world first), hundreds of shipwrecks to explore and even an underwater village where rail beds, sidewalks, an old canal system and hydro electric station still remain. This is the best fresh water wreck diving site on the planet.
SILFRA RIFT, ICELAND
The most amazing thing about diving the Silfra Rift is the fact that you will be diving in between continents! Through a crack that separates the American and Eurasian continents where the plates meet and actually drift apart at a rate of 2cm per year. Water temperatures range from 2-4°C, you can explore 3 areas called the 'Hall', 'Cathedral' and lastly the 'Lagoon' under the icy waters of the Thingvellir Lake.
Gas bubbles rising from the rocky floor from the geothermal chimney is a strange sight and there are some great swim throughs to weave through. The water is super clear at around 100 metres visibility and you'll come face to face with fish in the lagoon such as trout, Arctic Charr and Three-spine Stickleback or maybe a friendly wolf fish. A fantastic dive for any ice diving enthusiast.
LAKE BAIKAL, SIBERIA
The second largest body of freshwater in the world (after the Antarctic), the waters of Lake Baikal are an ice diver's paradise, full of natural ice sculptures and striking landscapes. Diving is only possible in the months of February and March when the water is at its clearest and warmest (1-2'C), and the ice is only around a metre thick. The locations are remote, so sites are only possible to reach by 4x4.
Expect to see large sponges, sea perch, dazzling light displays and ice formations. On there rare occasion you might even come face to face with a seal! There is sometimes opportunity to drift dive between two sites for the avid drift dive lover. You can spend a good few days exploring the many dives on offer in the lake, it's best to take a safari to really appreciate it.
THE WHITE SEA, RUSSIA
Experience the untouched beauty of the White Sea, the only sea in Europe to freeze every year, meaning that ice diving is available all year round. Take a husky safari into the wilderness to get to your dive location, then spend a good week exploring the spectacular area, home to the incredible White Sea Beluga Whales. Imagine coming face to face to a whale on your next ice dive!
The marine life here is thriving, not only will you encounter whales and Greenland seals but also ice caverns, fissures and breathtaking underwater scenery, fish life such as perch, wolf fish, cod and flounders, many soft corals and sponges but also an array of crustaceans and cool other cool critters. A special sight is to see the light show of the Aurora Borealis, a truly magical experience.
EUROPEAN COUNTRIES OVERVIEW
There are many places to ice dive in Europe, although visibility can be an issue it's a great place to get stated with your ice diving career and get that much needed experience to tackle those epic safaris you've only dreamed about.
The Mellan Marviken Lake in Sweden has some good fish life, easy entry point and is probably the best visibility in the country, even though that's only around 3 metres. Nionplas Raamsdonksveer in the Nederlands has slightly better visibility at 10 metres and lots of small fish to see. Elev Grusgrav is a nice lake in Denmark but very cold and with a silty bottom so good buoyancy is recommended.
Switzerland has a few ice diving lakes being the Lac de Geronde and Plaun de Lej or head to the Lac Loison for an altitude dive to 1850 metres with visibility up to 30 metres. Poland isn't reknowned for its diving but you can do some good training in the Koparki Reservoir, then head to the stone pit at Zimnik, Dymno Like or the wreck dive in the Baltic Sea called Jastarnia.
Before attempting any of the these dives, be sure you have the proper training, the right equipment for the environment and an experienced dive buddy. Ice diving can be a very rewarding and challenging adventure but dangerous if you are not fully qualified and prepared. Please share with us any ice diving areas we should know about or experiences and photos of your best ice dive. After the diving you can relax in front of the fire with a nice hot cup of cocoa. Enjoy!
(By Kelly Luckman)