The Strangest Winter Olympic Events

Let the (Winter) Games begin!

The Winter Olympics are smaller than its summer counterparts (the Summer Olympics feature 41 events, the Winter Olympics just 15) and feature well-known winter sports, such as hockey and figure skating. However, there are a lot of lesser-known sports that will (briefly) get a chance to bask in the glow of the five concentric Olympic rings.

Let's take a look at these mysterious sports that made it to the big-league, (and, we'll define 'em, too). But, remember to bundle up—it's going to be a cold ride.

Biathlon

Biathlon is a curious sport. It's actually a pair of sports joined together. It's part cross-country skiing, part hunting; you traverse a 12.5-mile course on skis and then stop four times to shoot at a target. The official website of the Olympics notes that the sport's origins go back to the "snow-covered forests of Scandinavia," where people would hunt in this same fashion—that is, on skis, wielding rifles.

The first biathlon events date back to the 18th century. It made its Olympic debut at the Squaw Valley Games of 1960. There is also such a thing as summer biathlon, too. No snow needed! Seems less exciting without skis . . . .

Curling

Curling, also known as "The Roaring Game" due to the sound this big ol' rock makes as it goes rumbling along the ice, is where two teams of four use a type of broom to slide a 44-pound rounded stone toward a circle on the icy playing surface. This circle is known as the "house."

Indoor tournaments have water sprinkled on the ice surface which freeze into tiny bumps called pebbled ice. They help give the stone more grip and lead to "consistent curling." Olympic.org notes curling was a continuous demo sport from 1936–1992 and it became a medal event in 1998.

  • (Demonstration sports were merely held to promote the sport and they had no medals. They were dropped in 1992, except for a "wushu" (kung fu) event in Beijing/2008.)

What you need: Special curling shoes which resemble walking shoes, except for the fact that each shoe has a different sole for sliding or gripping the ice, and a special type of stick (Olympic.org says "the most common is a brush or "push broom").

Luge

If you want to experience fear at its most primal level, we have the sport for you: luge. This one is quite simple. You lie flat on your back on this sled. You then zoom down this icy track (feet-first) with high-banked curves and super-fast straightaways (you can hit close to 100 miles-per-hour). The goal here is to basically not crash—if you win a medal, that's the cherry on top of the cake.

This extreme winter sport dates back to 16th-century Switzerland. There's also "pairs" luge with two athletes on one sled. The first Olympic luge program was in 1964 at Innsbruck, Austria.

What you need: Besides a high-tech fiberglass/steel sled . . . . a slick, skintight aerodynamic racing suit, a helmet, spiked gloves (they dig into the ice when you're shoving off), and what they call "racing booties." (Awwww.) You'll also need a healthy dose of courage.

Skeleton

Remember how you felt when you heard about luge—zooming down toward oblivion, feet-first? This is the opposite, kind of.

Same type of sport, except now you're going head-first. This sport developed in the uber-tiny ski-resort town of St. Moritz, Switzerland and its Cresta Run. It's another one that debuted in the 1924 Chamonix Winter Games.

What you need: The same type of gear as luge (and maybe more courage?).

Bobsleigh

Ok, you're still roaring down an icy track, but at least this time you have a little more protection . . . and you can bring some friends.

Teams of two or four competitors jump into the bobsled—this sled's got a nose, windscreen, and body shell too. The first bobsleigh was created by the Swiss back in the 19th century—by cobbling a pair of skeleton sleds together and adding a steering mechanism.

Olympic.org says the name bobsleigh came from the way the teams would bob back and forth to pick up speed at the start of the race. (From research, it appears the terms bobsleigh and bobsled are used interchangeably.) But, make no mistake, this is not a "sleigh ride," like you hear in the Christmas carol.

(Fun fact: Jamaica isn't quite known for snow, but that didn't stop them from deciding to field a bobsleigh team for the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.)

Bandy

There are some sports that have been cut from the Olympic Winter Games roster. Bandy only had one shot as a demo sport in the 1952 Oslo Games. What is bandy, you ask? It was an early form of hockey! A lot of people play this sport, some say it's the second most popular winter sport after ice hockey. And, it's not in the Winter Games?

Our definition for the word bandy means to "pass to one another or back and forth." Pretty literal translation. Specifications to this game include 11 players on a side (rather than hockey's six), the goal is much larger, and the icy rink is longer than a hockey rink.

What you need: Standard hockey gear but hold the puck, please—you'll need a Bandy ball. And, Bandy sticks appear to have more of a curved blade than their sharp-angled hockey counterparts.

Military patrol

A curious name for a winter sport, no?

No longer an Olympic sport, military patrol is a variation of the previously-mentioned biathlon—except, in this case, the athletes compete in teams of four as opposed to individually. This sport was held as a demo contest three times (1928, 1936, and 1948,) and as a medal event in 1924. Following the 1948 Games, the sport was superseded by biathlon.

What you need: Three more folks for your team—otherwise, see biathlon.

Skijoring

Skijoring is skiing while being pulled by a horse, dog, or motor vehicle. The word itself is derived from a Norwegian word that means "Ski driving." If you're using dogs, one to three of them will work.

This sport was demoed at the 1928 Winter Games of St. Moritz, Switzerland. But, unfortunately never saw the Olympic torch again.

What you need: A harness, skis, suitable winter clothing, and something to pull you (dealer's choice)!

Snowshoeing

This is precisely what it sounds like. Athletes race while wearing big ol' snowshoes. Clomp, clomp, clomp.

It was demoed as a Winter Games sport in 2002. Snowshoe Magazine's website says the reason the sport isn't on the Olympic list is because there's not a lot of financial muscle behind it.

What you need: Snowshoes and warm clothing!

Alpinism

Alpinism is another word for "mountaineering." Medals were awarded at the first Winter Games at Chamonix/1924 for the top climbing achievements of the previous four years (there was no actual competition at the Games themselves). The medal winners had tried to climb Mt. Everest in 1922, and seven sherpas were awarded posthumous medals (as they died in the unsuccessful attempt due to an avalanche).

What you need: Climbing gear required here, including boots, parkas, backpacks, and crampons. This is an expensive sport as a lot of gear is needed to protect yourself from the elements and to keep you from, you know, fallllllllllling.

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