Snowball Fight!

Professional snowball fighters battle it out at this month’s world championships in Japan

Every February, Ky McMaster travels 4,350 miles from his home in Alberta, Canada, to Sobetsu, Japan. There, at the foot of a smoking volcano, he prepares for battle.

In the center of a snow-covered court, he and his six teammates face their rivals. The members of the two teams shake hands and wish each other “Good fight.” Then they retreat to opposite ends of the court and wait for the countdown: “3, 2, 1 . . . Yukigassen!”

Yukigassen means “snow battle” in Japanese. The sport is a cross between dodgeball and capture the flag. There are three ways to win a match: capturing your opponents’ flag, tagging all of your opponents out with snowballs, or having the most players left after a three-minute match. The team that wins two matches out of three takes the game.

Every February, Ky McMaster travels from Alberta, Canada, to Sobetsu, Japan. There, at the foot of a smoking volcano, he prepares for battle.

In the center of a snow-covered court, he and his six teammates face the other team. The two sides shake hands and wish each other "Good fight." Then they head to opposite ends of the court. There they wait for the countdown: "3, 2, 1 . . . Yukigassen!"

Yukigassen means "snow battle" in Japanese. The sport is a cross between dodgeball and capture the flag. There are three ways to win a match. First, you can capture your opponents’ flag. The second way is to tag all of your opponents out with snowballs. Third, the team with the most players left after a three-minute match wins. The team that wins two matches out of three takes the game.

Officials in Sobetsu created Yukigassen 30 years ago to draw tourists to the snowy region. The sport has since gained a worldwide following, with teams in Canada, Finland, Australia, and other countries. More than 100 teams will face off this month at the world championships in Sobetsu.

But so far, no team from outside Japan has ever won the tournament. “The Japanese are very intimidating,” says McMaster, who’s the captain of the Canadian Snowbattlers. “Their aim is deadly accurate—they can hit an opponent 8 out of 10 times!”

The Canadian Snowbattlers have had to come up with strategies to try to beat the Japanese teams. “They are a quiet and respectful people,” says McMaster. “The teams always communicate with hand signals. So one of our tactics is to be loud and obnoxious to confuse them.”

Yukigassen was created 30 years ago. Officials in Sobetsu hoped the sport would bring tourists to the snowy region. Since then, the sport has gained a worldwide following. There are teams in Canada, Finland, Australia, and other countries. More than 100 teams will face off this month at the world championships in Sobetsu.

No team from outside Japan has ever won the tournament. "The Japanese are very intimidating," says McMaster. He’s the captain of the Canadian Snowbattlers. "Their aim is deadly accurate. They can hit an opponent 8 out of 10 times!"

The Canadian Snowbattlers want to win this year’s tournament. They came up with some strategies to beat the Japanese teams. "They are a quiet and respectful people," says McMaster. "The teams always communicate with hand signals. So one of our tactics is to be loud and obnoxious to try to confuse them."

Heikki Saukkomaa/AFP/Getty Images

The team’s efforts have paid off. In 2016, the Canadian Snowbattlers were the first international team to advance to the second day of the tournament. Their success has made them minor celebrities in Japan. “Everyone’s always asking for our autographs,” says McMaster. “We’re like movie stars over there.”

This year, the Snowbattlers hope to make their fans proud. “We’re playing to win,” he says.

The team’s efforts have paid off. In 2016, the Canadian Snowbattlers were the first international team to advance to the second day of the tournament. They’ve even become minor celebrities in Japan. "Everyone’s always asking for our autographs," says McMaster. "We're like movie stars over there."

This year, the Snowbattlers hope to make their fans proud. "We’re playing to win," he says.  

The grid below shows the dimensions of a Yukigassen court. Your team’s snow shelters are marked in green and your opponent’s are orange. Each unit on the grid is 1 meter. Use the grid to answer the questions that follow. Round distances to the nearest tenth. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

The grid below shows the dimensions of a Yukigassen court. Your team’s snow shelters are marked in green and your opponent’s are orange. Each unit on the grid is 1 meter. Use the grid to answer the questions that follow. Round distances to the nearest tenth. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

At the start of the match, your team is lined up at the back line (vertical blue line at each end). You’re at (-12, -4). How far is your team’s flag at (-10, 0)?

At the start of the match, your team is lined up at the back line (vertical blue line at each end). You’re at (-12, -4). How far is your team’s flag at (-10, 0)?

Your teammate is at (0, 1), near the center shelter. She wants to throw a snowball at an opponent behind the shelter at (5, -2). How far is that?

Your teammate is at (0, 1), near the center shelter. She wants to throw a snowball at an opponent behind the shelter at (5, -2). How far is that?

Each team receives 90 snowballs, which are stored behind the shelter at each end of the field. Your team’s stash is at  (-17, 0). If you grab a snowball and run to (1, 4), how far did you go?

Each team receives 90 snowballs, which are stored behind the shelter at each end of the field. Your team’s stash is at  (-17, 0). If you grab a snowball and run to (1, 4), how far did you go?

When you reach (1, 4), one of your opponents at (14, -1) throws a snowball at you. How far will it have to travel to hit you?

When you reach (1, 4), one of your opponents at (14, -1) throws a snowball at you. How far will it have to travel to hit you?

You’re at (5, -2). How far do you have to run to capture the other team’s flag at (10, 0)?

You’re at (5, -2). How far do you have to run to capture the other team’s flag at (10, 0)?

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