If someone had told me five years ago that I was looking forward to a weekend of ice diving at Lake Weissensee, I would have simply shaken my head and not thought about it any further. And if I hadn't done my drysuit course in Canada a few years ago, I would have missed some of the most beautiful dive sites and experiences underwater ever since. To be honest: Diving in cold waters is at least as exciting and diverse as diving in the Caribbean or the Red Sea.
When I discovered the underwater world of Carinthia two years ago, I heard about ice diving for the first time – and was fascinated by it. Especially because I didn't even have to leave the country to do it. For the following winter, I was signed up for a day of ice diving at Lake Weissensee. However, a barotrauma in my left ear, which I had gotten shortly before in South Africa, caused me some discomfort. So the dream of ice diving was put on hold for a year.
In February I fulfilled this much longed-for goal on my Scuba Bucket List when I completed the ice diving course at Lake Weissensee. How the ice diving was, what to pay attention to, why it is so special at Weissensee, how the course was and many more questions I am answering in this blog post.
Weissensee: A Paradise for Ice Diving
First of all, it is important to know that you can ice dive on both sides of Lake Weissensee. Since I already had great experiences with the diving centre Diving Weissensee on the east shore during the warm season, I wanted to do my ice diving course of course also at Mimi and Basti in Stockenboi. They have been running the diving centre here for several years now. I've rarely seen such a passionate, courteous and helpful couple in a diving operation.
Every winter they organise ice diving weekends at Lake Weissensee and set up quite a bit of infrastructure. Besides the heated bistro with hot drinks, food and snacks, there are two heated containers in which divers can change and warm-up. Diving Weissensee also takes care that we divers actually get into the water and cuts holes in the thick ice cover and helps to secure the divers in the water.
Learn Ice Diving at Weissensee
Before I can get under the ice for the first time, I have to complete a two-day course. Diving Weissensee trains curious divers according to SSI guidelines for ice diving.
Friday at noon Mimi starts with the theory session where we learn about the safety aspects of ice diving. Afterwards, we go out on the ice with Basti, where we try to cut a hole in the 30-centimetre thick ice layer by hand (without a chainsaw). Even with a manual ice drill and a Finnish ice saw, we don't really make any progress. We struggle for 15 minutes before Basti saves us and cuts a hole in the ice with a chainsaw within seconds.
On the second day of the course, we meet the instructor who will go under the ice with us. A few details have to be discussed before we carry (or rather drag) our equipment from the warm container to our entry point in the ice. First, it is the other two's turn and I am responsible (under supervision) for securing the three divers. The air is below freezing and even with my countless layers under my drysuit, I get cold. How will I feel once in the water?
The other divers don't hold out too long in the water and soon it's my turn. Packed up in my equipment I let myself fall into the ice water – and find out that it is actually warmer in the water. Can that be even possible?
Honestly, I found the first dive under the ice very stressful. Why? After not diving in my drysuit for a few months, it feels strange. Especially with all those extra layers. Somehow I feel really uncomfortable and have to concentrate too much on little things to enjoy the dive.
I spend the lunch break coming up with excuses why I don't want to get back into the water. I can barely concentrate on my food. I have never felt so uncomfortable diving, even though the cold hasn't affected me. I feel constricted by my drysuit and this feeling dominates everything else.
On the way back to the dive site for the afternoon dive I force myself to stop. I shake my head firmly and then I just have to laugh. I am finally here in Carinthia and I want to leave the whole weekend behind because of one single dive that didn't go so well and made me feel uncomfortable? It takes a lot more to keep me from my goals. So I replace the thoughtful expression on my face with a curious smile. Pumped up with new energy I start the second dive. It's incredible how powerful our thoughts often are. The second dive is completely different and I can enjoy being in the water again. Yeahh! As so often, the time in the water goes by much too fast and before I get cold, we emerge through the hole in the ice again. We clap our hands and I am so happy to be #CertifiedIceDiver!
The third day at Lake Weissensee is the same for me as for already certified ice divers – I will tell you more about this in the following section!
Ice Diving Weissensee: Ice Diving Weekend for Certified Ice Divers
Those who have already completed the ice diving course can look forward to a weekend full of dives. As already mentioned, the dive centre does its best to create the perfect conditions for us diving enthusiasts. Mimi and Basti not only take care of the room reservation at the Gasthof Wassermann, but also of our physical well-being and provide heated containers for changing and temporary storage of equipment. They also make sure that we really get into the water and cut holes in the ice and secure them.
Comfortable diving and no stress are on the agenda. Depending on your arrival time, you can start ice diving on Friday. The whole weekend is basically based on the following plan: Breakfast. Diving. Lunch. Diving. Dinner. Sleep. Doesn't sound so bad, does it?
Tips Ice Diving Weissensee
- No more cold feet! I simply stuck these ingenious warming pads on the underneath of my thick socks and was really amazed that I didn't have cold feet all day long.
- Dry gloves vs. neoprene gloves: Many divers swear by their dry glove system. I have not upgraded my suit for this and will not be switching in the future. For ice diving I simply combined two pairs of gloves. On the one hand my Camaro 3mm with titanium thermal coating and above that 7mm three-finger gloves from Dirty Divers (I found an alternative here at Amazon).
- Surface intervals: Be sure to bring thick gloves (mittens for warming up) and a comfortably warm hood for the time on land.
- Do not mix up your scuba gear: As there are always several groups of divers storing their equipment in the containers, it makes sense to mark your own things and to store them in a plastic box. This way nothing rolls around and dry things stay dry.
- Dive guide: If you don't want to miss such diving adventures because you don't have a buddy, inquire with Mimi and Basti from Diving Weissensee or with Stefan from Tauchschule Pazifik Kärnten.
- Cash: Please remember that the dive centre does not accept cards and the next cash machine is 30 km (about 40 minutes) away.
Q&A Ice Diving Weissensee
I have already shared some impressions of ice diving at Lake Weissensee on Instagram and got many questions about it – so here are your most common questions about ice diving:
Why ice diving at all?
Especially in a landlocked country like Austria, we divers are always looking for new challenges. Ice diving in the cold winter months belongs clearly to this category. The fascinating thing about ice diving is the special light effects created by the sun's rays in the ice. For this reason, you don't dive very deep when ice diving – the most beautiful things happen under the surface directly by the ice.
How cold is the water during ice diving?
The water temperature of Lake Weissensee was 3-4°C. Compared to the air, the water felt almost warm. In the early morning we already had -7,5°C
How thick is the ice and is the whole lake frozen over?
When I visited in February, the ice was 28 centimetres thick. When it is colder for a longer time with little or no snowfall, the ice continues to grow. In general, the entire Weissensee also freezes over. Exceptions are the boat mooring where the ferries spend the winter, some piers and a few places on the lake shore.
When is the best time for ice diving at Lake Weissensee?
The ice diving season at Lake Weissensee is from mid-January to the beginning of March. The dive centre Diving Weissensee organises five ice diving weekends, which take place in February. A reservation is recommended several months in advance because many divers come to Weisensee in winter.
What are the requirements for ice diving?
Before diving under ice, it is required to finish a course. Various diving associations offer their own ice diving courses. Diving Weissensee is teaching according to SSI guidelines.
The course takes two days: The first day is about theory in the dry. Basics like securing the divers, ice science and manual hole cutting (without a chainsaw, but with an ice drill and Finnish saw) are taught. The second day, you will go into the water twice with a dive instructor. Afterwards, you are a certified ice diver and can ice dive with your buddy.
How much is ice diving in Lake Weissensee?
The ice diving course costs 500€ including accommodation and meals. The weekend for already certified ice divers costs 300€. More information about the prices and what exactly is included can be found here.
Do you need a dry suit for ice diving in Lake Weissensee?
At Diving Weissensee dry suits in winter are mandatory. The water and especially the outside temperatures are too extreme even for very thick wetsuits.
If you are looking for a really great diving adventure in Austria, I highly recommend ice diving in Lake Weissensee.
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