Ready, set, snow.
On February 20 a mountain in Hokkaido, Japan will erupt. Not in the traditional explosion of lava and ash, but in a hail of snowballs: It’s the 28th annual Showa Shinzan International Yukigassen World Championship.
In Japan, snowball fighting is no longer kids’ stuff, but has become a professional sport called yukigassen, where two teams of seven adults each battle it out for glory.
Each year, teams from around the world gather in Hokkaido for an epic snow war to determine which baller will reign supreme. For the battle royale, each team is supplied with 90 pre-pressed snowballs and rules similar to capture the flag. The team nails that all the players on the other team with snowballs, captures the other team’s flag, or has more players on the field when the clock runs out is declared the victor.
While there is no monetary prize for the competition, the honor of victory and the title of champion is enough to keep the winners warm over the long winter. Last year, more than 172 teams competed, and the world championship attracted more than 25,000 spectators.
While Yukigassen, which translates as “snow battle”, started in Japan in 1988, with the first tournament held in 1989, the sport has proved popular across the globe. Snow ballers and spectators can catch the action at competitions that have sprouted up around the world in such snowy climes as Finland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Alaska, and Canada.
The sport has a global following, but Japanese teams have held the world title for over two decades. Head to Hokkaido in February to see if the trend continues.