Annual snow battle gets underway in Russia

The annual Yukigassen snow battle competition has begun in the northern Russian city of Murmansk.

Yukigassen is played between two teams with seven players in each. The players try to hit as many of their opponents with snowballs as possible and capture their flag.

One game set consists of three battles which last three minutes each. There is a one-minute break between the battles. Ninety pre-made snowballs are used in each battle.

"Unfortunately, it is not considered an official sport in Russia because it hasn't been recognised yet as such, even internationally," says head referee Natalia Smetanina. "But there are teams who treat it as a serious sport: their captains don't let players eat several hours before the game; they believe that a team will definitely lose if it's just eaten and this is how they prepare. Some just do stretching before the game. For corporate teams it's more about team spirit and team building, an entertaining way of spending time together outdoors. Others play for results and further games, these guys consider Yukigassen a real sport".

Participants wear protective helmets to avoid head injuries. Those who get hit are eliminated from the game.

In Murmansk the competition took place in -20 degrees Celsius temperatures amid frequent snowfalls.

Twenty-four teams played this year, including local schoolchildren, students and corporate groups. There were also teams from local colleges, as well as factories and retail shops.

The competition, which takes its origins from Japan, has been organised every year in Murmansk since 2006.

Apart from Russia, Yukigassen tournaments are held annually in Japan, Sweden, Finland and Norway.

According to organisers of Yukigassen Murmansk, the competition was brought to their city by Norwegian players who introduced the game to their Russian neighbours and trained the first Russian Yukigassen judges.