Yukigassen 101

March 6, 2011 

•Yukigassen — “snow battle” in Japanese — originated in Japan and has since spread to other countries. The Anchorage Fur Rendezvous hosted the first ever U.S. champion snowball fight tournament and, from the start, it was a done deal that an Alaskan team would win.

Why? Because nobody else in the country is doing it. Despite the snowiest winter since the Ice Age, Anchorage was the only city able to find enough adults willing to don hockey helmets and clear plastic face guards and risk getting slammed by icy spheroids just for the fun of it.

The layout is a 40-by-10 meter court divided in the middle by a red line. Each team has to guard a flag on its end of the court. Each end has a “chateau”, about 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide and a couple of smaller “shelters” placed closer to the center line. In the middle is a single chateau. These are made of snow elsewhere; in Anchorage they were Styrofoam.

Players are eliminated by being hit with a snowball — or by being in violation of a rule, like stepping out of bounds.

Each team is responsible for making the 90 snowballs it is permitted to have for the fight. This was done in a heated tent where slushy snow was mashed into perfect 2 1/2-inch spheres in molds that could compress 45 at a time. With the temperatures in the teens, these hardened quickly. Loose balls picked up after a match sounded like marbles when they were knocked together. At least one player slithered out of bounds appearing to be in serious pain.

There are three 3-minute periods per game, with the winner taking the best two of the three. A team, which consists of seven players, wins by capturing the other team’s flag, tagging out every other member of the opposing team by hitting them with snowballs or, at the end of 3 minutes, having most members still in the field of play.

In the rare advent of a tie, a “shootout” takes place in which players take turns trying to knock a target off the opponent’s chateau from deep within their own side of the court. This happened only once in this year’s inaugural Fur Rondy tourney when, on Saturday, Big Test Icicles prevailed in three shootout rounds to advance into Sunday’s finals.

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