Competitive snowball fighting: it's a sport so perfectly tailored to Canadian winters, one might wonder why we didn't think of it first.
Yukigassen, Japanese for “Snow Battle”, has gained a huge following worldwide since it was invented in Japan 20 years ago, with tournaments taking place in Sweden, Finland, Australia, the United States, and now, Canada.
On March 4th, hundreds of snowball warriors descended on Fort Edmonton Park for the first-ever Canadian Yukigassen Championships.
101 teams hailing from Regina to Kelowna continued to battle on March 6th for the ultimate title of Canadian Yukigassen champion in the men's and co-ed divisions.
Dave Hennessey, director of Yukigassen Edmonton, said temperatures hovering around the -14°C mark gave the snowballs a bit of bite, but added overall the weather has co-operated for the inaugural event.
“It’s chilly,” he said. “Everyone’s dressed for it, though, and you're running around and having a lot of fun.”
In Yukigassen, two teams of seven people face off across a court. Each team is armed with about 90 snowballs per period and must try to eliminate the members of the other team by hitting them with snowballs. When a player is hit, they are either out for the period, or must try to race to the other side of the court and capture the opposing team's flag. A team wins by either eliminating all the opposing players, or capturing the other team's flag.
Hennessey said organizers were fortunate to have a lot of snow still on the ground to work with, although the game snowballs required a bit of modification.
“Everyone knows from growing up that you need the right kind of snow to make snowballs, and the snow that we have right now is quite dry, so it needed moisture added back to it in the form of heat and just a little bit of water,” he said.
Some of the snowballs left lying around too long became “hard as billiard balls,” Hennessey said, so to help prevent injuries, tournament organizers ruled that only snowballs less than 20 minutes old could be used in play.
The Canadian Yukigassen champions declared at the end of the weekend will have a chance to represent Canada at the world championships in Japan.
Hennessey hopes the Canadian tournament becomes even bigger next year as the sport gains a bigger profile.