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Ask a Polar Bear

These are the ice sculptors, Antarctic marathoners, and Frozen impersonators in your neighborhood.


Illustration by Peter Arkle  

Coney Island Polar Bear Club President
Dennis Thomas, who leads ocean swims every Sunday from November through April.
How long have you been plunging? Since the ’70s. When I started, it was just, like, 13 old weird men. Now we have teachers, lawyers, vegans, people covered with tattoos. “Pins and needles” doesn’t quite sum up the experience; it’s more just like coldness felt absolutely. During the week, I work for a software company, and there are so many times when I’m at the office and I say, “I could really use a cold dip in the ocean right now.”

Ice Delivery Guy
William V’Ariano, owner of Chilly Willy & Cool Carl’s Ice Service, who’s been delivering for 33 years.
How’s business? Not like it used to be. I mostly do deliveries in Manhattan, the Bronx and Westchester, and about 20 years ago, the DWIs started, so we get fewer holiday parties. Back then, on New Year’s Eve, I’d be out until 11 p.m. Now I’m ­finished by 5 p.m. Also, at that time, the only people selling ice were gas stations, bodegas, and supermarkets. Now you have Sam’s Club, CVS, and Target selling ice. Even Home Depot sells ice.

Host of “Let’s Chill” Egg-Freezing Parties
and VP of patient care at Fertility Authority, Jennifer Palumbo.
Why parties? It’s nice to learn about this process in an informal setting. We get a lot of lawyers, divorced women. The Q&A portion is what the women find most helpful. We get stuff like: “If you froze your eggs here but moved to Florida, could you transport your eggs there?” Doctors say it’s better to come back to New York. It’s better that you travel than for your eggs to travel, which is a funny way to put it.

Ice Sculptor
Shintaro Okamoto, owner of Okamato Studio.
What are your most popular requests? We do lots of ice bars, dogs, cats, portraits, torsos, full-body sculptures. Things coming out one end and going in the other. Enlarged versions of parts. People will say, “I want to luge a penguin.” And you have to be like, “Well, you know, because it’s an animal, it’s going to inevitably look like it’s peeing or pooping.” Having that conversation with a mother for a bar mitzvah is always awkward.

Antarctic Marathoner
and financial-services worker Lee Alexander, who ran one this past November.
Simple question: Why? I think I’m a pretty goal-oriented person. After I did the Boston Marathon and an Iron Man triathlon, I came across this thing, doing seven marathons on seven continents. Antarctica was the last one. There’s really no way of preparing for minus-22 degrees. Antarctica is actually a desert, so you get dehydrated quickly. During the race, they give you hot water, and it tastes fantastic. They’d actually just boil up the glacier ice, so it was very pure.

Minus5 Ice Bar Manager
Rich Marsiglia
Isn’t it hard to bartend when it’s 23 degrees and you’re wearing gloves? Absolutely. But all of our cocktails are very simply made. It’s just a couple of ingredients. It cuts down on a lot of the preparation time that they would generally have. One of the main jobs of the bartender is to ask people to use two hands when holding their glass. If you put your actual ice glass on the bar, it will slide off or freeze there.

Elsa Impersonator
Allison Wilkes, who works for New York Princess Party.
How do children react when they first see you?I can only imagine it’s what Taylor Swift must feel like. The kids just go insane. Once I was doing a party in Central Park and was walking there in my costume, and kids started following me. People were handing me their babies to take photos. It’s like being a politician. I just did a party with a Cinderella. She was like, “Well, I’ll go in first. I’m just your handmaiden.” Any other princess is basically chopped liver.