Backyard Olympics

Beat the February blahs with your own winter games

By Evelyn Raab
Backyard Olympics

It’s cold. It’s dark. The driveway needs shovelling. Again. The kids’ boots have disintegrated, there isn’t a matching pair of mitts in the house, and all the stores are selling swimsuits.

There’s no getting around it. It’s February. So what’s a poor Canadian family to do? Go play outside, of course. Given the choice between staring gloomily out the window all day or going out there and building a big freaking insane snow castle with our kids, well, is there actually any choice? And with the eyes of the sports world turning to Canada this month, it’s the perfect time to have your own taste of Olympic glory. Invite a few friends to join the fun, throw in some world-class snacks, and we can almost face that snow shovel again.

I said almost.

Snowball relay

Equipment: snow

Make a snowball. It should be solidly packed and sturdy.

Set up a course around the backyard or park, with designated spots to pass the snowball from one runner to the next. If the snow is deep and trudgy, all the better. To keep it interesting, make sure that each team has at least a wee kid, a medium-sized kid and one completely hapless adult runner.

Runners race along the designated course, passing the snowball to the next runner at the passing spots. The snowball must remain at least partially intact at the end of the race.
Snow castle insanity

Equipment: plenty of snow, buckets, cups, shovels, plastic critters, dinosaurs, toy people, sticks, army guys, cars (you get the idea)

This event can be competitive or not — your choice. If competitive, you’ll need a separate area for each team to build its snow castle. Otherwise, it can just be one giant free-for-all that can be judged or not. Either way, it’s fun.

Provide kids with a snowy area, tools and accessories to build their castles. A bit of supervision may be needed to make sure there’s no bickering but, otherwise, adult presence is usually pretty superfluous.

Castles can be judged on beauty, creativity, ridiculousness or all of the above.

Snow targetry

Equipment: homemade target, snowballs galore

Using chalk on a wall or garage door, or paint on a large sheet of paper, make a target. It should be really big because some of us are not so good at this kind of thing.

Make a lot of snowballs. You’ll need three snowballs per participant.

Athletes stand at a designated spot and fire three snowballs at the target — the best shot is the one that counts. Make sure you mark each person’s best snowball hit. At the end, the closest to the centre of the target wins.
Big-air snow jumping

Equipment: big pile of snow or something else to jump from

Athletes jump off a mound of snow, a picnic table or a bench — not too high — into the softest, deepest snow available.

Participants may be judged on the expressiveness of the jump and precision of the landing. If they decide to use music or other creative embellishments (streamers, balloons, singing a song while they jump), even better.

You may want to designate someone to shovel fresh snow onto the landing zone to make sure there’s enough soft stuff so no one gets hurt.

Crazy mixed-up dogsled race

Equipment: long rope to pull toboggan, one toboggan per team

Each team should have up to two “mushers,” who sit on the toboggan, and up to four “dogs,” who pull it. Mushers must stay on board the sled, and dogs must remain hitched for the duration of the race. If anyone comes loose or falls off, the sled stops until everyone’s back in place.
Snolleyball or snoccer

Equipment: volleyball for snolleyball; net, soccer ball and two goalposts for snoccer

Pick the game you like best. The deeper the snow on the playing area, the more fun the game will be. (This is a good event to end the Olympics — sort of like a Canada-US hockey game…)

If you’re playing snolleyball, it’s just volleyball played in the snow. Rotate players so everyone gets a chance. Make sure you include little kids in the game, even if they’re just netminders or ball retrievers. For snoccer, follow the usual soccer rules and make sure each team has little kids, big kids and adults. Make the games short enough that the frenzied spectators don’t freeze while they cheer their team to victory.

Get your games on!

• Medals — you’ll need lots of them! Cut them out of cardboard or buy something medalesque at the dollar store. Make sure everyone gets a medal for something.

• Menu to keep athletes fuelled: gold-medal coconut hot chocolate, high-performance taco chicken fingers and rocket fuel granola bars. Find recipes at

• Closing ceremonies with plenty of cheering, hoopla and high-fives: Medals are awarded for everything from making an insane snow castle to winning the dogsled race to being a good sport

This article was originally published on Jan 04, 2010

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