28 Different Types of Winter Sports (Team and Individual)

A snowboarder riding a red snowboard in the middle of a stunt on a snowy mountain.

Winter sports were traditionally held only during cold seasons. Nowadays, ice and artificial snow can be made to allow these sports to be played all year long and enjoyed by fans around the world.

Most of these snow sports are based on the invention of alternative means of transportation over ice and snow. These became pastimes and eventually developed into full sports with codes and rules. 

People have come to appreciate these sports, which is why Winter Olympics started in 1924 and have grown in scope since then.

Ice Hockey

Ice hockey players during a heated match.

Source: Pexels

Ice hockey is a winter sport usually played indoors. Two teams compete by shooting a rubber puck into a goal to score. The sport is known to have hard hits and go fast, which is why anyone looking to have their adrenaline pumping will enjoy this. It is believed to have been adopted from other forms of stick games coming from Europe. It is the official winter sport of Canada.

The teams are composed of six members: three forwards, two defensemen, and a goaltender. They use ice skates to navigate the field and hockey sticks to hit, steal, and shoot the puck. 

As a full-contact sport, players are required to wear protective equipment, including helmets, face masks, gloves, mouth guards, and pads in various parts of their body. Goaltenders wear specialized equipment to further protect them and make them more adept in moving to defend the goal.

Ringette is a variation of ice hockey. It is played mostly by women and held either indoors or outdoors. It has the same principle and gameplay as hockey.

Bandy

Bandy players on the side of an ice rink that is 110 yards long and 60 yards wide.
T. C. Worley for The New York Times

Source: The New York Times

This type of winter sport is closely related to ice hockey. Instead of using a puck, the players throw a small ball around with sticks to reach a goal on either side. However, bandy is one of the precursors of ice hockey which is why the two sports are quite similar in form. It was even referred to as hockey in Russia and Kazakhstan.

It has a version that is played in a significantly smaller court called rink bandy. In this game, they also use a bandy stick, but the goalkeeper does not use it.

Alpine Skiing

A man doing alpine skiing on a snowy slope.

Source: Pexels

Alpine skiing is also known as downhill skiing. This is held on ice-covered mountains or artificial slopes. They use specialized skis for this activity. It has been part of the Winter Olympic Games since 1936.

Modern alpine skiing was developed in the late 19th century and was a take on a method of transportation. They used the equipment to create a recreational sport and a competitive sport as well. The modification of the skis to have curved sides and bindings was introduced by Sondre Norheim, a pioneer in alpine skiing.

The first competition for alpine skiing is known to be held in Oslo, Norway, and has paved the way for enthusiasm for the sport in 1868.

Backcountry Skiing

Two men backcountry skiing, exploring on a snowy mountain.

Source: Pexels

While this is not as fast-paced as alpine skiing, it is still making rounds as one of the popular types of winter sports. Basically, in this sport, people on skis will go to the outskirts of a ski resort and explore it.

While that seems rather unexciting, for most backcountry skiers, the uncertainty and the adventure are all worth it. Going to new areas includes more risk. This is why, for safety, this is usually done in groups and with the knowledge of the ski resort authorities or people in charge of the area being explored.

This sport is not something you do without prior training and understanding. People need to have a firm mastery of the fundamentals like starting, steering, falling, and stopping. They should also have formal training in assessment and rescue in case of an avalanche.

Cross-Country Skiing

A woman doing cross-country skiing on a flat terrain, going the distance in a snowy forest.

Source: Pexels

Much like backcountry skiing, XC is not about speed but rather about going long distances. The difference is that with cross country skiing, the terrain is flatter, and if there are slopes, they are more forgiving. The skiers focus on long-distance skiing.

Freestyle Skiing

A man doing freestyle skiing on a ski board along a snowy slope.

Source: Pexels

Freestyle skiing is a variant of downhill skiing. The difference is that freestyle incorporates different tricks like jumping, flips, and somersaults. This is usually done in specialized courses to help skiers jump higher and have more leverage when performing tricks. This type of skiing is meant for advanced individuals who have years of training.

There is a variant of freestyle skiing called mogul skiing. This involves a more rigorous course with more technical turns and obstacles. It also puts more emphasis on the execution of tricks. Another type of freestyle skiing is skiboarding. The participants use short skis and go down a hill doing tricks to gather the highest score.

Ski Jumping

A man doing a ski jump on a snowy hill.

Source: Pexels

This winter sport is a distance sport. Participants compete on a venue called a hill which has a ramp, take-off table, and a landing area. They will slide down the hill and aim to score the most points. The score is based on the distance, the style of jump, and even the wind conditions when they took the jump. Participants jump twice and then combine to complete their final score.

Speed Skiing

Simone Origone speed skiing at the men's FIS Speed Skiing World Championships in 2009.
Photo by Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images

Source: Slate

Speed skiing is sort of the simplest form of the sport. Individuals race straight downhill as fast as possible. Skiers reach an average of 200kph. They either try to get the fastest run in a competition or vie to break an existing speed record. You can immediately distinguish a speed skier by the aerodynamic equipment they wear.

Curling

Players of Norway’s mixed curling team at the Youth Olympic Games.
Photo by OIS/IOC

Source: Olympic

To countries without winter seasons, curling can seem peculiar. In this sport, players aim to slide a polished granite stone to the center of a circle target and to get the highest score in the competition.

The players can create a curved path by brushing the ice in front of the stone. This plays a big factor in where the stone will land. They also use specialized shoes which have a slider side and a gripper side which are used for sliding or pushing the player forward.

The playing area is called a curling sheet. It has to be as flat as possible to enable fair play. It has circles with varying points where the players aim to land the stone depending on their strategy. They can also bump the competitor’s stone.

It also has a variant called ice stock sport or Bavarian Curling. Competing teams slide ice stocks towards a target on ice. However, with this game, you can still play it even on the tarmac.

Biathlon

Female competitors shooting targets while cross-country skiing at the IBU Biathlon World Cup.
© Ruhpolding Tourismus GmbH

Source: Snow-Online

This is a game of endurance and precision. The participant goes around a course on skis and shoots at a target using a special rifle. Missing a target will result in the additional distance to travel or time added to their overall time. 

Ski archery is a variant of biathlon where the only difference is the use of bow and arrow in place of a rifle.

A team sport variation of this is military patrol. In this sport, teams go cross-country skiing and shoot targets along the way. Most of the time, participants of this sport are from different countries or from their military units.

Kite Skiing

A man balancing on a snowy slope, kite skiing.

Source: Kitty Hawk

As the name would suggest, individuals on skis are attached to a large kite with a ball-socket swivel to glide on the snow. This also helps them jump higher on the courses allowing the skiers to execute tricks on the snow. This is not just a downhill competition because snow kiters can also climb slopes with the help of their kite.

Ice Skating and Figure Skating

A female figure ice skater at the 2018 Grand Prix Figure Skating final in Vancouver.
Photo Credit: Skate Canada/Danielle Earl Photography

Source: British Journal of Sports Medicine

Ice skating is one of the most recognizable types of winter sports. People use metal-bladed shoes or ice skates to glide over the surface. The sport was a recreational version of a means of transportation of people from Finland that helped them conserve energy during their winter travels.

Figure skating is a sport where people perform on the ice using figure skates. These types of skates have a concave base which allows for precise movements on the ice. This can be individual, pair, or group performance accompanied by music. 

There are different disciplines in this sport, including spins, lifts, throw jumps, and varying movements on the field. Ice skating also involves using the blades of the skates to draw different shapes on the surface and are judged on how clear and accurate they draw them.

Additionally, synchronized skating is also a form of figure skating where eight to twenty individuals perform together as a team and move precisely and in unison. 

Speed Skating

Male figure skaters at the Olympic speed skating events held at PyeongChang 2018.
2018 Getty Images

Source: Olympic

Contrary to the graceful movements and cadence of figure ice skating is speed skating. This ice race is more competitive and involves outdoing others in your competition. It has a team pursuit mode which is a relay-type race.

In speed skating, competitors race on a 400-meter long track. However, some competitions have been held where the track is measured up to 1000 meters long. There are also tracks that measure less than that and are referred to as short tracks. These are often held in an ice rink.

Speed skates range from 30 to 45 cm in length, depending on the height and age of the wearer. These are sharpened manually to get a good edge.

Luge

Erin Hamlin in the luge, speeding downhill face-up, riding a sled at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Martin Schutt, AP

Source: USA Today

Luge is a sport where an individual or pair slides down a track face up. The luger uses their calf muscles to steer. While it may seem like a simple sport because the sled is just being pulled by gravity, the riders will reach speeds of up to 120 kph.

There are two types of luge, natural track, and artificial track. Natural tracks are adapted from mountain roads and paths that already exist.

Bobsleigh

Four racers riding a snowmobile, participating in a bobsleigh competition.

Source: Pexels

Bobsleigh is a winter sport performed by racing against other teams through a course. They mainly use a bobsled designed to be aerodynamic and breeze through twists and turns. 

Modern bobsleds are made from a lightweight composite and designed to have dynamic positioning to make turns more precise. They also have a steering console that utilizes a pulley system. 

For the team competition, teams will usually be composed of 4 or two individuals. There are also individual races where the competitor rides a monobob.

To race, the team or individual runs down the course for up to 50 meters before boarding the bobsled. 

Downhill Snowboarding

A man doing downhill snowboarding from a steep slope.

Source: Pixabay

This competitive sport involves going downhill and has different types which use specific boards, discipline, and techniques.

Among the types of snowboarding, freestyle is viewed as the most exciting. This involves the snowboarder doing tricks on a ski jump, some railings, and spins while in the air.

Freeriding is a type of alpine snowboarding that involves going off course. The goal is to explore areas spontaneously and test the ability of the snowboarder to overcome the trail.

Alpine snowboarding or free carving is a discipline that takes on a course that has been prepared for such an event. You won’t see any intentional jumping in this discipline. Rather, there will be skilled turns or carving to navigate down to the finish line.

Slopestyle mixes freestyle and alpine snowboarding. The snowboarder will descend a slope while simultaneously taking on obstacles and performing tricks on rails and jumps. This is also closely related to half-pipe snowboarding which is also also a trick-competition sport.

Snowboard Cross

Snowboard cross athletes practicing their stunts on a steep slope for the next season of 2019/20 FIS Snowboard Cross World Cup.
©FIS

Source: FIS-Ski

This type of racing takes inspiration from motocross. Here, there will be about four to six competitors going on a downhill course. There will be sets of turns, obstacles, jumps, and varying sections which they must overcome while trying to get ahead of their competition.

Snowskate

Snowskater Wacey Loe riding over a giant plastic water tank.
Photo by Jesse Tinsley

Source: The Spokesman-Review

They designed this sport to welcome skateboarders into winter sports. In essence, this is using a slightly modified skateboard (either by simply removing the wheels or adding an additional deck) to work on ice and snow so that they can perform skateboard tricks.

Snowmobiling

Snowmobilers on a snowy course, on their way to the finish line.

Source: GlobeNewswire

This sport involves the use of snowmobiles to accomplish different forms and terrain. Each discipline utilizes a different type of vehicle to overcome the demands of a particular course.

Freestyle snowmobiling is similar to freestyle snowboarding. Here, the rider will use a powerful vehicle to go over different courses, which will involve jumping and getting to the finish line fast. Other types of snowmobiling include snocross, cross-country snowmobiling, and hill-climbing, all of which are easily understood from their namesake.

Snow Snake

A competitor about to throw his snow snake during a tournament at Pine Hills State Forest in Cattaraugus County.
Mark Mulville/Buffalo News

Source: The Buffalo News

This is a traditional sport played by Native Americans and is still played today. Participants throw wooden sticks called snow snakes as far as they can along a track of snow. The person with the highest score based on distance will win. 

Snowball Fighting

Competitors in action at a snowball fight match.
Photo courtesy of Yukigassen Association, Sobetsu/Hokkaido, Japan

Source: Shoulders of Giants

In Japan, they hold a yukigassen or a snow battle where teams play on a court to capture the flag of the opposing team. They make about 90 snowballs in advance and use them to fight their opponent.

Ice Climbing

Two ice climbers making their way up a vertical ice formation.

Source: Topend Sports

Similar to rock climbing, participants of this sport ascend vertical ice formations. These are often held in frozen waterfalls and cliffs that have ice formations. Participants need to have high technical skills to reach the goal as efficiently and as timely as possible.

Ice Speedway

European ice racers on their Speedway bikes with spiked tires, doing a lean angle.
Image by Eisspeedway Journal

Source: Rider Magazine

This sport directly adapts motorcycle speedway to the ice. The motorcycles used in this sport are modified to perform well on icy terrain. These include a longer wheelbase, rigid frames, and rubber or studded tires. 

Ice Canoeing

Five members of an ice canoeing team pushing their canoe across a frozen river.

Source: Get Out There

In this winter sport, a team of five members pushes their canoe across a frozen river. They also paddle the boat depending on what surface they are on. Ice canoeing has been a means of transportation before it was a competitive sport. It was converted to a team sport after the introduction of steamboats which obscured the use of canoe for transport in the late 1800s.

Ice Fishing

A man showing his big catch after ice fishing in North Dakota.

Source: North Dakota Game and Fish

Anglers and fishermen catch fish in the wintertime by drilling holes or finding openings on a lake or any frozen body of water. They use fishing lines or even spears, depending on the fish they are trying to catch.

They stay in permanent or temporary heated shelters called ice shanty. Even if it’s considered a social activity, contests have been held. The person who has caught the biggest fish in a limited time was given the prize.

Snowshoeing

A man out in the snow for a run, wearing his lightweight snowshoes.

Source: ACTIVE

For people who love to hike, snowshoeing is the cooler alternative. This involves using snowshoes to walk over snow and explore mountainous regions. Individuals or teams will climb uphill to reach a certain destination at a given timeframe. There is also a type of snowshoeing where teams go on an expedition to a remote area in the mountain or backcountry.

Snow Golf

Golfers at play on a snowy field during the nine-hole tournament of the Engadin Snow Golf Cup.

Source: The New York Times

Yes, golf is also played in the snow. You probably have guessed it, greens are called whites in this form of the winter game. Snow golf is played on carefully constructed courses that try to emulate regular golf down to the last detail. Regular world championships are also held in this sport.

Snow Rugby

Snow rugby players in action at a tournament in Russia.

Source: The Times

This is a rather extreme sport played by hardcore athletes. The gameplay is the same as regular rugby but in a frigid environment, adding to the difficulty and toughness of the high-impact and contact sport.

Conclusion

These are the recognized types of winter sports played all over the world. With the introduction of artificial snow and technology that can create snow, the limitations for these sports are getting smaller and smaller, allowing fans to enjoy watching the games and for athletes to showcase their talents and skills all year round.

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