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25 May 2016

5 Amazing Winter Sports you’ve Probably Never Heard of


The Winter Olympics have a very different kind of appeal to the normal ones. By their very nature, winter sports are just as dependant on the technology of the gear as they are on the physical ability of the people taking part, but it can sometimes feel like the pool of sports on offer is somewhat limited. There is, in fact, a whole range of winter and cold weather sports which don’t feature in the winter games, but most certainly should.

Some of them are new, and others have languished in obscurity for decades, but they share one particular constant – madness. Sports like ski jumping and ice climbing have a reputation for risk, but those are tame by comparison to some of the things on this list. For this reason, a brief warning – make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into before you decide to try any of these out, we don’t want any of you to end up buried in a snow drift on the far side of Bulgaria.


Snocross


The clue is in the name here, snocross is a portmanteau of snowmobiling and motocross, and that’s essentially what it is – motocross jumping on goddamn snowmobiles. Snowmobiles are not designed for competitive sport; they are typically supply, scouting and rescue vehicles, so regulations had to be put in place so that they could be modified for racing.

Snocross first appeared competitively at the 1998 X-Games in Colorado, with a course much more reminiscent of motocross than the ones you get now. Typically racers travel at a speed of 90-95 kmph, going over 9 metre jumps and around tight bends and banked corners. Courses can either be natural or man-made, depending on the venue, but in either case it’s one of the most utterly ludicrous sports in existence. 


Snow Kayaking


Contrary to popular (and logical) belief, you don’t need water to kayak, not in liquid form anyway. Snow kayaking (or snow boating) is the act of racing kayaks down snow drifts. Crazy, right? Well yes, but there’s no physical reason why it shouldn’t work, and sure enough, it does, very well. The paddle is used more for balance and steering than speed, gravity takes care of that, and in some cases racers elect to eschew the paddle and just hold their arms out in order to stay upright.

The first ‘official’ snow kayak races were held in 2002, and soon after that it was co-opted by Red Bull, as is often the way with these things. Most of the time, events are held on ski slopes and backcountry, but other variants are appearing as the sport increases in popularity. Don’t be surprised if companies start to manufacture purpose built snow kayaks in the near future.


Yukigassen


Only in Japan would someone have conceived of a sport as crazy as this. Adhering to the maxim of ‘if it exists, it can be a sport’, Yukigassen is essentially competitive snowball fighting. After originating in Japan in the early 2000s, it soon spread to Canada, Norway, Finland, Russia, Sweden, the USA and even Australia (yes, they have snow there, apparently).

Rather than making snowballs from the ground, teams (numbering 7-a-side) are given a set number of pre-rolled balls. There is a field of play with boundaries and walls of snow to provide cover, special helmets and faceguards are to be worn and you win by bringing a flag back to your home base. From these relatively basic parameters, a fast-paced sport with varied strategic approaches seems to have developed. I’m not sure how to feel about that.


Wok Racing


This, somehow, manages to be one of the most accomplished, long running sports on this list. Everyone loves the idea of bobsledding or luging, right? Well, what if you can’t afford any of that high end, specialist gear? Well, have a rummage through your kitchen cupboard, if there’s a wok in there, you’re set. Wok racing first appeared as kind of bet-inspired gag on a German TV show, and in 2003 the first championships were held in Winterberg.

To this day, standard wide-bottom culinary woks are the gear of choice, the only modification being some reinforcement on the bottom, and some foam padding on the inside to protect from injury. There is a second component – ladles, worn under the feet for greater control around the bends. Racers either go down the track solo or in a team of four, and both modes have had championships annually since 2003. SEAT even has a team.


Ice Cross Downhill


We have Red Bull to thank for developing this one. Ice skating typically takes place on an entirely level plane, partly because that’s what happens when standing water freezes and partly because putting ice skaters on a warped surface would be insane, which is probably why they decided to make it happen. Ice Cross involves gathering teams of heavily padded, ice skate clad racers and putting them on a frozen track with hills, chicanes and even jumps. It’s somewhere between ice skating, roller derby (they race in teams) and sledding. It’s absolutely brutal.

It originally started as ‘Crashed Ice’, which Red Bull still tour around the world annually. Racers reach speeds of over 70kph, terrifyingly, and falling down is basically an accepted part of the racing, the courses seem like they’re almost designed to unbalance people. Only the toughest, most seasoned skaters and ice hockey players attempt this mad sport.  


Callum Davies


Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.