Imagine the white magic of snow-covered pine forests at 2,000 metres, icy water... and silence. This is the scene offered in the heights of the Pyrenees to those who want to follow the example of Heinrich, the man who pioneered under-ice diving during a German expedition to Antarctica in 1901. Now, in Spain, Andorra and France, you, too, can plunge into the frozen mountain lakes and explore the fascinating world of the icy waters.
For expert divers, it's the perfect way to continue the sport through the winter months and those who have tried it agree that it's an incomparable experience. The ice acts as a filter, creating a very special quality of light in the freshwater environment and there's a chance to explore this unique ecosystem quite unlike the usual scuba experience.
The ski resort of Les Angles, at 1,600 metres in the eastern Pyrenees, is one of the locations where under-ice diving is available during the months of January and February. Rederis Sub offer dives in the huge Lac de Matemale, an artificial lake on the river Aude with an area of over 200 hectares. Each session lasts for about 40 minutes; participants are provided with special equipment adapted to low temperatures, and accompanied by two instructors, one under water and the other at the surface. At the end of the dive a hot drink and snack are provided.
Diving Andorra offer high-altitude diving all year round in La Canaleta, Tristaina, El Forn and Cabana Sorda in the ski stations of Vallnord and Gran Valira. In winter, access by off-piste skiing, snowboarding or even by helicopter adds to the excitement of the experience. And in Spain, the company Buceo Navarra offer under-ice diving at Panticosa as well as a comprehensive programme of training courses to ensure that participants are fully able to cope with risks involved in this extreme sport.
Prices range from around 65 € to 90 €, (approximately £55 to £80) depending on the company, location and number of participants, but may rise to 400 € (about £340) or more if access to the lakes is by helicopter.