Step into wild swimming with our guide…

A quick surf on social media or a watch of Wim Hof’s Freeze the Fear TV series will lead you quickly to claims that cold water and wild swimming can help depression and anxiety, boost metabolism, aid muscle soreness, and kick-start the body’s immune system. There’s lots of people here in Morzine who are big fans, so I caught up with one of them to see what the pull was, where to go to do it, and how to keep safe.

What is wild swimming?

In essence, swimming, but without the entry fee. Appealing for a northerner! You can wild swim in lots of places in the Alps, from rivers to lakes, and under waterfalls. Cold water swimming, or polar dipping is the same thing but for a much shorter period of time in the winter.

What made you start?

I swam outside in the UK before moving to Morzine. The first time was actually on a date – I took straighteners and my hair brush with me, not sure where I thought I was going to plug in or find a mirror! I remember feeling mud between the toes and feeling a bit freaked out by that, but then once in the water being able to just stare up at the sky, it was magical!

Why do you do it?

It’s so accessible here, it’s a way of life. For me, being able to swim out in nature is one of the main reasons to be in the Alps in the summer. In the winter it just has that extra benefit of being cold and quietter.

Where are your favourite spots to swim?

I like Lake Montriond in the autumn and winter. It’s super cold, you tend to get it to yourself and so it still feels a bit wild. Conversely, I like Lac Léman on New Year’s Day as there there’s other people around, and there is some camaraderie and knowing looks in all the faff that is pulling on ALL your layers afterwards and getting your flask out as fast as possible! In the summer I tend to find rivers and waterfalls around Morzine more appealing as you can find some secluded spots and have your own private swimming pool.

What do you wear?

Less than you think! I started in the winter in a wetsuit, but now I just wear my normal swimming costume. In the winter I wear a wool bobble hat to keep warm, but if I was starting out I would probably also get some neoprene socks and gloves. In the summer the water is much warmer of course, just the costume needed!

Do you believe what people say about the health benefits?

Definitely. In the winter when you get into the water, which I tend to do very quickly, the cold really bites. Your heart rate goes up, your breathing rate goes up, and you feel the urge to gasp. Then the magic starts. You can only focus on the physical and not the mental, so you are forced to take control of the situation and calm everything down. It’s great for resetting your perspective, and there is a massive sense of achievement having done it. In the summer it’s just nice to feel connected to nature, to be able to stare up at the sky instead of a ceiling, and to be free of the chlorine smell.

What do you take with you?

Depending on the season, warm clothes, layers and a flask of something hot in the winter, and then my flip flops in all seasons in case there are rocks where I am getting in. I’m a bit of a minimalist though, other people take neoprene socks and gloves for cold and rock protection.

Any tips for safety?

Being grabbed by a current is probably the biggest risk. Go with someone who has more experience with you at first, and let people know where you are going. If it has rained, avoid rivers and waterfalls where the current will have become stronger, and at the lakes watch for where the water comes in or feeds out (remembering that this may well be concealed). If you are in any way not sure, don’t go in. 

Any funny memories?

My partner’s face and amazing body contortions the first time he tried it! The photos are kept safe, of course, for future torture!

How would you try this if you were staying at Chalet Morzine?

Oooh, good question. Where to start? Summer first I guess. Finding a spot in the river to paddle with little ones and take a picnic and search for rocks can be fun. Lake Montriond can get busy in the summer, but a group of you can always rent a paddle board or kayak with life jackets to get a little away from the shore to swim. In the winter it’s essential to go with someone who has more experience, take other people with you, and seek advice before choosing a spot. There are local groups in Morzine, and down on Lac Léman.