BY William Power & Jorge Gomez Estay

On this Sunday morning, the wind chill is making it feel like -35 C and there’s a lot of snow on the ground. But a group of people in Griffintown are playing volleyball outside despite it all.

Nicolas Verdun says snow volleyball allows him to play his favorite sport, gym or no gym.

“With my team, we’re eager to play,” he says. “We can’t play inside yet, so let’s forget about the snow and the weather and let’s have fun.”

The Justice Society of the AvengeAce (JSA) league began organizing snow volleyball tournaments during the pandemic shutdowns. Narcissé Nguyen has been in charge of organizing these tournaments.

“We organized these tournaments because… everybody needed a sport to stay healthy physically and mentally,” Nguyen says. “People don’t always want to play in the cold and right now they don’t have another option, but they’re here now and they enjoy it.”

snow volleyball players playing in Montreal

Snow volleyball players playing on a sunny day in Montreal. Photo by Jorge Gomez Estay.

Sports psychologist Dr. Jean-Michel Pelletier says that repeated lockdowns were hard on athletes.

“This year, the hardest thing for athletes is the lack of predictability, we don’t know what’s going to happen next week, and now they’re tired and they want to be back to normal,” he says. “In 2020, it took a lot of energy and adaptation for athletes, but they were in an adaptation period, people weren’t tired yet.”

Athletes learn to get creative in order to play the sports they love throughout a pandemic. Video by William Power.

Snow volleyball may be new to Montreal but it has been popular for years in Europe after originating in Austria. There’s official competitions and professional players. Teams of three people have a maximum of three touches before sending the ball to the other side.

“Snow volleyball has been trending for a while in Europe and people from Europe have already contacted me to organize some tournaments,” Nguyen says.

Blue and Yellow snow volleyball

Méli Leclair has been playing volleyball since high school, now she’s in university and she’s happy that volleyball is rising in popularity as now it’s easier to play than before.

“There are more and more nets outside and there’s also more volleyball events so now it’s easier to find ways to play, even just for fun,” Leclair says.

A mapping of the places where you can play snow volleyball in the city. Media by Jorge Gomez Estay.

“As a team sport, you create great bonds with your teammates and it is a sport that you can play on every occasion and a sport that you can play inside, in the snow or in the sand,” Verdun says.

The importance of staying active during this period is not only mental but also physical. “Every competition is good because your brain needs it,” says Pelletier.

volleyball player blocking the ball

A volleyball player makes a block during a game in Montreal. Photo by Jorge Gomez Estay.

Pelletier also mentions that activity causes your body to create dopamine. Athletes normally find it in competition, but alternatives don’t work nearly as well.

“If athletes don’t find their dopamine in sports, they’re going to look for it in food or in video games and for their training and global health, it’s not good,” says Pelletier.

“It’s a good idea just to go outside and it’s better than just staying home,” says Leclair.

volleyball player taking a service

A volleyball player responds to a serve during a game in Montreal. Photo by Jorge Gomez Estay.

Verdun agrees.

“We wanted to play, so when this opportunity showed up we said ‘let’s do it.’ We want to play and it’s impossible to play indoors right now so let’s do it,” he says.

Snow volleyball arrived at an opportune time. People picked up the sport even if volleyball isn’t their preferred game because it was one of the only ways to stay active during the shutdowns.

“I think it’s going to stay with us for a long time because it’s an extreme sport that demands different techniques that you need to learn and that you need to manage and people like that,” Nguyen says. He also believes that it’s a sport that Montrealers can get used to. “People right now are still not used to it because of the cold, but I perfectly believe that just like skating and skiing, eventually, they will adopt this sport and play it.”

Main image by Jorge Gomez Estay.
Published March 18, 2022.