The stirrings of a genuine winter sport movement cap off Jasper in January
Yukigassen's balls are fast and furious. Seriously, their t-shirts even say so.
Photo courtesy of Aaron Wong/SNOWSEEKERS
EDMONTON, AB ? Time slows to a crawl as your teammates line up alongside you. A cascade of snow flurries, like tiny white feathers, float in and out of your field of vision. In your hands, victory, in your opponents?, defeat. You take a moment to survey the battlefield and formulate a plan of action, but as you do the whistles blow and time returns to normal speed. Chaos reigns.
Your team charges forward, equal parts aggression and dismay. As projectiles zip past, you dive for cover behind a barrier and put your back to the action. With a deep breath you calm yourself, focus, and cock your arm in preparation. With grim determination you turn and rise over your shelter, your volley releasing as three more fire your way.
Time slows again. Three perfectly compact snowballs are hurled straight at you with savage intent. You lean back in hopes they fly overhead as your opponent does the same. They?re coming closer, closer, closer?
Do they hit? Does yours?
You tell us this March.
Your introduction to the Snow Battle
The event in question can only be Yukigassen (which translates, from Japanese, to ?Snow Battle?). The sport?a unique combination of dodgeball and capture the flag, with snowballs?originated in Japan over 20 years ago. After finding success in Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Australia, the sport came to Canada last year with events held in Edmonton and Saskatoon. Jasper in January 2012 was recently capped off with a wonderfully successful nine-team tournament, and the event will return to Edmonton on March 17-18th, 2012.
Word on the street was that Jasper's referee crew was the "best ever." Just sayin'.
Photo courtesy of Jasper Tourism
Originally, I intended to make my way to Jasper for the tournament as a reporter only. But when Tourism Jasper put the call out for volunteer referees, I jumped at the chance to get as close to the action as possible. Being able to be a part of the mayhem, and at the same time be witness to it, offerred a unique perspective.
The game consists of two teams of seven who compete on a field that is 40 metres long by 10 metres wide. Each game lasts three rounds (best of three), and each round is three minutes long. To win, teams have to knock opposing players out with snowballs (like dodgeball) or capture the other team?s flag. As I said, chaos?or, organized chaos?ensues.
Revelling in nostalgia
Jasper, a quintessential Canadian town, played the perfect host to what I think is a quintessential Canadian sport. Almost everyone in this country has, at one time, gathered a group of friends together to huck snowballs at one another. The sport taps into that same primal experience we all loved as kids and lost as adults. What Yukigassen does is allow you to somehow recapture that childlike feeling of innocent exhilaration (albeit, in a more intense environment).
What Jasper offered?a quaint Rocky Mountain snowball fight experience?will be in stark contrast to the epic event that Edmonton is likely to deliver this March. Last year?s tournament (a Canadian first) saw approximately 100 teams enter. Given that Yukigassen Canada had just gotten off the ground, such a massive undertaking came with its share of challenges. This year, with several events now under its belt, Yukigassen Canada will return to Edmonton for the 2012 Canadian Championships, what should be the best tournament yet (don't be scared by the term 'Championships' ... anyone can enter).
A total of 540 snowballs are thrown in each 9-minute matchup. Fast and furious, indeed.
Photo courtesy of Aaron Wong/SNOWSEEKERS
You'll play once and be hooked
There have been few adventures in my life that have made me smile as much as the Snow Battle has. On the one hand the game itself is just ridiculously fun; the action, the anticipation, the whole notion of chucking snowballs at other people ? it?s more fun than you can imagine. But on the other hand there?s the team experience that makes this event special. Gathering a group of friends together to compete for something (however seriously or lighthearted you?d like) is an amazing bonding experience. You win together, you lose together, you get celebratory beers together afterwards (during?). Heck, our referee crew came together in ways I never expected, where friendships were forged between complete strangers.
I feel like I?m already a part of an emerging Canadian movement. Yukigassen isn?t going away, it?s only getting bigger. With events in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick early in 2012, the game has officially gone national. And once words starts to spread?about how infectious and joyful this thing is?it will officially take off. I can?t dispute the theory that there will be city-wide leagues happening within a year or two.
In order for that to happen, though, you need to do your part. Come to Yukigassen Edmonton. Gather a team. Or volunteer as a referee. Just be a part of it. I promise you that you will become a fan.
Stay tuned to SnowSeekers.ca for further details about Yukigassen Edmonton 2012, which will be hosted by SnowSeekers and is potentially happening October 27 & 28th, 2012 at the Edmonton Ski & Snowboard show. We will be your first source for any and all news regarding the event. To ensure you get word, ?Like? us on the SnowSeekers Facebook page. You?ll hear it there first.