It's called Yukigassen.
It's a sport that originated in Japan, where teams of seven square off in a giant snowball fight. Japanese for “snow battle,” Yukigassen was put to the test this weekend at Laurentian University, when student from the Sports Administration program organized the first-ever sanctioned event in Ontario.
Darby Reive, event organizer and tournament liaison, said nine teams — about 75 competitors — took to the field in the inaugural tournament.
The field of battle takes place on a snow court measuring 40 metres long by 10 metres wide. Each team has 90 snowballs with which to eliminate the opposing team members. Each team also has a flag, and if it's captured by the other team, they automatically lose.
It's a sport combining elements from capture the flag, paintball and snowball fights, and it has proven to be quite popular with those who participated in the tournament.
Nick Andrews, a fourth-year Sports Administration student, said if high school students were to get into the mix next year, organizers could easily double the number of participants.
Andrews and his Fist of Flurries team pulled off a big upset on Sunday. Seeded seventh going into the final day of the tourament, the Fist of Flurries held off the Icemen to advance to the finals.
“The biggest challenge is dealing with the wind, because you're playing either with snowballs or small Nerf balls, and the wind easily takes them,” he said. “When you're hiding behind a hay bail, and someone lobs a Nerf ball over you, the wind can actually push it back into you.”
Yukigassen is a game based on strategy, he said. For the Fist of Flurries, the team has several of its players move up to the first few hay bails. Several defencemen stay behind and feed the others snowballs or Nerf balls, before making any king of move, he said.
“Our first game, we weren't really sure what to do, and we got beat pretty bad,” he said. “We were just throwing the balls and jumping around. After that, we developed more of a strategy, which seemed to work out.”
The LU students opted to use Nerf balls instead of snowballs, Reive said. Snowballs that were being made prior to the tournament were too hard — they didn't even break when they were dropped on the ground, so getting hit by one of them would have really hurt. For the sake of safety, students were hurling Nerf balls at each other.
Because LU Snowbattle was a sanctioned event for Yukigassen Canada Inc., tournament victors won the right to attend nationals in Jasper, Alberta. However, there are many restrictions in place, teams have to pay their own way there and back, and the nationals take place during exams, said Reive. Chances are slim of the winning team from Laurentian attending.
“Yukigassen Canada is really small right now, it's just starting to grow,” he said. “In years to come, getting a travel voucher as a grand prize for the tournament winners would be amazing.”
LU Snowbattle garnered a lot of support from Laurentian University and the local media, he said.
It was difficult to get teams out this year, because not many people actually knew what Yukigassen is. Once they understand that it's not just teams paying money to throw snowballs at each other, then there is a lot of potential for it to grow into something big.
“Next year, I'd like to have more than 100 participants.”