Just because the temperature dips doesn’t mean the outdoor fun has to stop. While traditionalists stick to skiing and snowboarding, some folks get creative, either translating their own favorite warm-weather sports to the winter climate or making up a whole new one, like the guys who started sledding with a shovel. Below, eight non-traditional winter sports from around the world. 

A person wearing a blue helmet and holding a snowball crotches behind a snow barrier as five people with red helmets advance in their direction during a snowball competition in Finland.
Yukigassen isn't an ordinary snowball fight © Aija Lehtonen / Shutterstock

Yukigassen

There are snowball fights, and then there’s Yukigassen, a snowball competition originating in Japan that has since made its way to other snowy climates like Norway, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Alaska and Canada

But this isn’t your elementary school snowball fight. The “snow battle” is comprised of two teams with up to seven players who face off for a three-minute match, armed with 90 snowballs and the goal of either tagging the entire opposition out, like dodgeball, or capturing the other team’s flag. You can see it in person when 100 teams battle it out every February at the Showa-Shinzan International Yukigassen.

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A orange ball hovers above the air as a man holding a wooden mallet prepares to strike it while on horseback. There are a group of other men chasing behind him all on horses during this snow polo match in Lake St. Mortiz
Snow Polo is just as glamorous in the winter months © Stockwerk / Getty Images

Snow Polo 

The first snow polo tournament was held on a frozen lake in glitzy St. Moritz in 1985 and has since become an annual tradition for the fur-clad set. Basically a winter version of polo, there are a few tweaks. The sport is polo played with horses on the snow, yes, but unlike regular polo, there’s the added obstructions of wind, chill and powder. 

Horses are outfitted with special shoes and braided tails and are watched carefully by the players. The sport has also made its way stateside held at the St. Regis in Aspen every December. If you go, dress to impress and don’t forget to stop by the Bloody Mary bar. 

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Snow Kayaking

Who says kayaks are only made for the water? When the powder comes, they also make excellent vehicles for speeding downhill. That’s the premise of snow kayaking, where kayaks are waxed like skis and shoved off a high slope. Players are given a paddle for some semblance of control.

Also called snow boating, the first race was held in 2002 by local Austrian kayakers and now has grown to have its own world championship on a fixed course. Taking it even further, some of the more adventurous will add a parachute to catch air. Sky kayaking, anyone? 

A woman on skis is attached to a small dog as it leads the way as she cross-country skies in a snow-covered forest.
Take Fido out for a little Skijøring © LSOphoto / Getty Images

Skijøring

A Norweigian word and pastime, skijøring is roughly translated to “ski driving.” In this speedy winter sport, a person on skis is pulled by an animal, most commonly up to three dogs, to assist with cross-country skiing. But the sport isn’t just limited to animals: it has also included motorcycles, other vehicles and various other animals, including horses. 

Equestrian skijoring was introduced as an exhibition sport in the 1928 Olympics but never quite made it to competition status. Today fans can still find events to watch, including an annual World Skijoring Championship in Whitefish, Montana, where participants are pulled through a course by their steed (with a rider)  through jumps, turns and other obstacles. 

Ski ballet 

Ski ballet is just what it sounds like. Once upon a time athletes dressed up – sometimes with puffy sleeves – and performed choreographed freestyle skiing. There were jumps, twists, flips and even moonwalking

There were no limits, and that was part of the appeal. Not unlike figure skating, ski ballet, also called “acroski,” even made it to exhibition sport status in the Olympics, but never quite generated the interest they hoped it would, despite being splashy and set mostly to popular music at the time. The sport faded into history after the year 2000 but you can still catch some tricks in the ski ballet scene in 1984’s Hot Dog

A man wearing a helmet and snow gear, holds a handle attached to a large kite while doing a handstand in the snow.
Grab some hangtime while snowkiting © Legenda / Shutterstock

Snowkiting

To understand snowkiting, start with kiteboarding, where a large controllable kite, plus wind, is utilized to propel your board along or out of the water to do tricks. Now swap the water for snow and a wetsuit for snow gear and you’ve got snowkiting. 

The sport has been gaining popularity all over the world, with the largest competition the Red Bull Ragnarok, held annually in Hardangervidda, Norway with 350 kites dotting the course of the race.

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Shovel Racing

What do you do when you can’t find a sled? Grab your shovel. At least that’s what lift workers in New Mexico’s ski resorts did in the 1970s, enabling them to speedily get down the mountain after the workday was over. 

It naturally turned into a race, and then a bonafide sport, even featured in the 1997 Winter X Games (then quickly shut down after a participant was injured). Today the tradition is kept up at the Angel Fire Resort in northern New Mexico with the World Championship Shovel Races, usually in January or February. 

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Safety recommendations and restrictions during a pandemic can change rapidly. Lonely Planet recommends that travelers always check with local authorities for up-to-date guidance before traveling during Covid-19.

This article was first published December 2019 and updated January 2022

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