efe-epaHarbin, China

Surrounded by spectators in thick coats, scarves and gloves, about 600 people took part in an icy swim competition on Saturday in Harbin, China, during the world’s largest ice and snow festival.

The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is one of China’s most popular tourist attractions in the northern city during winter months.

Participants jumped off ice starting blocks into the freezing water of the Songhua River, celebrating as they emerged just hours ahead of the official opening ceremony, epa-efe photos showed on Saturday.

The outside temperature in Harbin is currently sitting between -12C and -23C.

The 34th edition of the event comprises three theme parks installed at Sun Island Park and Zhaolin Park under the theme “Ice Snow Blooming Garden, Fantastic World.”

The exhibition is scheduled to run until mid-February, but the longevity of the giant sculptures the festival is famous for depends on weather conditions.

Other activities include outdoor sports such as skiing, sledding and fishing, while weddings and carnival activities also take place.

Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang, China’s northernmost province that borders Russia, each winter welcomes more than 1 million tourists - the majority from other regions of China - who descend on Harbin to see the mammoth sculptures.