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Adventure, Travel / January 29, 2017

Yukigassen is our new favorite sport

Written by: Brad Shannon

Snowball fights have always had their best practices. No throwing rocks, no ice balls, no crossing Mr. Martwick’s lawn… stuff like that.

But to our knowledge, Yukigassen is the first snowball fight with an actual set of rules. The Japanese sport (the name of which translates to “snow battle”) is a sort of cross between dodgeball, paintball, and capture the flag.

But with snowballs, of course. Players use specially-made 7 cm diameter balls, which are dense and icy enough to demand the use of helmets and face shields. The balls are pre-made in batches of 90 for each three-minute period of play.

Yukigassen snowballs are premade before each match. Each team has access to 90 snowballs per three-minute period. Photo courtesy of Yukigassen Association, Sobetsu/Hokkaido, Japan.

Yukigassen balls are extremely icy, so players wear helmets and facemasks for protection. Photo courtesy of Yukigassen Association, Sobetsu/Hokkaido, Japan

Two teams of seven square off in an arena that is slightly larger than a basketball court and populated with small barriers. Winners capture their opponents’ flag, knock all opposing players out of the game with snowballs (one hit and you’re out), or have more players left when the period ends. The first team to win two periods wins the match.

Yukigassen started when residents of a small tourist town sought ways to attract off-season traffic. They saw visitors engage in an impromptu snowball fight, and ran with it.

It grew, and now qualifying events around the world produce a select group of teams in general and women’s divisions that compete for a world title each February. World championships have been hosted each February for 28 years at Mt. Showa-Shinzan, Sobetsu-town, Hokkaido, Japan. This year’s event will go down February 25th and 26th.

Photos courtesy of Yukigassen Association, Sobetsu/Hokkaido, Japan

Like many off-the-wall Japanese creations, the sport has developed a sort of cult following abroad.

Terry Chatwin of the Canadian Snowbattlers, the only non-Japanese team to make it past the first day of world championship competition, raved about the experience.

“We were awe-struck by the Japanese players,” Chatwin said. “Between our first and second years, we practiced year-round, which helped; but the best training by far was going to Japan.”

Want to play?

Gather some friends, study up at www.yukigassen-intl.com, get equipment, space, and try it out. Check your favorite search engine for teams and events nearby.

Chatwin said good players tend to be small and have quick, accurate hands. Players and teams improve just like musicians aspiring to Carnegie Hall, he says, through “practice, practice, practice. Japanese teams play year-round. They even play at their schools.”

No snow? No problem! Like Chatwin’s Snowbattlers, teams around the world practice and compete without snow—indoors, during warm weather, even on a beach—using modified equipment like tennis balls layered with tape. There has yet to be a Jamaican-bobsled-team-like tale of glory at Mt. Showa-Shinzan, though—Japanese teams always win.

“Championship players and teams have great teamwork,” he said. “Forwards use hand signals to defensive players to target specific people. It’s hard to adjust when you don’t know what the other team is doing.”

Need some help connecting to the Yukigassen world? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll do our best to hook you up with some sources.

 

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about the author

Brad Shannon

Brad Shannon is a cyclist, runner, triathlete; soccer coach, player and referee; gear / gadget lover; and storyteller. He’s a fan of dogs and the weather and craft beer scene in northern Colorado. His current favorite item is his 3D-printed Inconel bottle opener.

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