Literally translated, yukigassen means “snow battle,” and this organized snowball fight is about to get its first trial run in Canada through an upcoming event in Saskatoon.
Tourism Saskatoon has organized yukigassen — Saskatoon’s Snowbattle for Jan. 27 to 29.
“We are very excited to be the first yukigassen host not only in Canada but in North America,” said Tourism Saskatoon spokesperson Cheri Hamilton.
“There is no doubt that the yukigassen event will grow over time. It’s a great opportunity to be on the ground floor.”
Hamilton says numerous championships are held each year in Europe and Asia, and this year Edmonton and Anchorage will host the Canadian and American championships respectively, on March 4 to 6.
The game is a cross between dodgeball and capture the flag, with some rules similar to paintball, Hamilton explains.
“It is a very strategic sport,” she said. “There are dozens of videos on YouTube explaining the rules and demonstrating how to play, right down to the science of making snowballs. The snowballs are specially constructed only a few minutes prior to each match from wet snow using a fabricated snowball maker.”
The Yukigassen Canada official rules and regulations lay out the specifics of the game. The court is rectangular, 40 metres long and 10 m wide, with lines similar to a hockey rink: blue lines on each side and a centre red line.
The court also includes seven shelters made of snow: a home shelter for each team, a centre shelter and two defensive shelters on each side of the court. The home and centre shelters are 90 centimetres tall, 180 cm long and 45 cm wide, while the defensive ones are slightly smaller at 90-90-90.
There are seven players per team. Forward players can only play on their side between the blue line and red centre line, while defensive players can use the whole court, but only three players from the same team may cross the centre line at one time.
There are three periods with a maximum of 90 snowballs allowed to be used per team per period. Players hit by snowballs are called out. There are two ways to win a period: get the entire team out, winning the period with seven points, or capture the opposing team’s flag, winning the period with 10 points. In the case of a tie, the game goes to a shoot out where five teammates try to hit a target.
Fouls and penalties are awarded for actions such as ignoring the calls of the official, tripping other players or having too many snowballs per period.
Although this is Canada’s first taste of yukigassen, the game was first developed over 20 years ago in Japan as a way to boost tourism during winter months. According to literature provided by Tourism Saskatoon, the largest recorded tournament thus far was held in Japan in 2004, featuring 190 teams and 28,000 spectators. Today, there are official yukigassen tournaments in Japan, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Australia and now Canada.
Clearly there is some potential for the game to catch on.
The upcoming tournament will take place at the Delta Bessborough Gardens. Hamilton says Tourism Saskatoon has not yet set a deadline to register, but they have capped the number of teams at 47.
“We anticipate selling out teams quickly once the word gets out. One local broadcast in Anchorage had their organizers sign up 70 teams in less than four hours.”